After 13 seasons in Philadelphia, Chase Utley is going home. The Long Beach, California native was traded yesterday by the only team he has ever played for to the Los Angeles Dodgers. After graduating from Polytechnic High School, roughly a 30 minute drive from his new home stadium in Chavez Ravine, Utley matriculated to UCLA before being drafted in the first round of the 2000 draft. Though it was likely a bittersweet parting for Utley and the Phillies, a return home to play for a World Series contender instead of the rebuilding Phils was a no-brainer for Utley, who waived his 10-and-5 rights to make the trade to the Dodgers happen. With Howie Kendrick injured, getting a second baseman was a necessity for the Dodgers.
So, what can they expect to get from the 36-year-old in the midst of by far the worst season of his career?
The Dodgers have been down this road before, trading for a 36 year-old in the twilight of his career. Manny Ramirez came to LA LA Land in 2008 and turned it into Mannywood. Ramirez slashed .396/.489/.743 with 17 home runs and 53 RBI’s in 53 games after the trade. Whether or not the performance was medically aided remains up for debate. It’s highly unlikely Utley will sniff such numbers over the final 42 Dodger games this year, but that doesn’t mean he won’t have an impact.
Since returning to active duty after a lengthy DL stint, Utley has batted .484 while slugging .742 in eight August games. Granted, it’s a small sample size, but Utley appears rested and fully healthy after being hindered by nagging injuries the entire first half. His .179/.257/.275 line in 65 first half games appears more a product of injuries sapping Utley’s power than a severe erosion of skill. That being said, Utley is rapidly approaching the end of his career, and his days as an elite hitter are behind him.
Utley has hit well at Dodger Stadium in his career – .320/.389/.613. His average has typically dragged in August and September, but he has barely played a full season and took over two full months off. A rested Utley could exceed his career .267 August and September batting average.
The Dodgers are not going to get a 2008 Manny Ramirez-esque performance from Chase Utley, but that’s not what they need from him. Utley will provide a spark at second base in Kendrick’s absence and will provide crucial playoff experience and leadership. After slogging through the rebuilding years in Philadelphia, being back in a World Series hunt should invigorate Utley and bring out the qualities that made him an all-time great in the Philadelphia Phillies’ franchise history.