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Chase Utley brings his leadership back to Dodgers

first_imgThere wasn’t much negotiating to do. The Dodgers’ front office has made it very clear how much they value Utley’s influence in the clubhouse culture and particularly on the young players that have become an increasingly prominent part of the roster. GM Farhan Zaidi credited Utley with having “a huge impact on this organization.” Manager Dave Roberts took it a step farther two years ago, calling Utley “my favorite player of all time.”The Dodgers further tipped their hand over the winter by including Utley in a promotional trip to Dubai where he and Justin Turner conducted a baseball clinic and allowing Utley to work out at Dodger Stadium (even though he was technically no longer part of the organization).When camp opened this past week, Utley’s cleats and gloves were in his usual locker and boxes addressed to him were stacked up in front of it – though there was no nameplate until Saturday.“Yeah, that’s huge for the team, huge for the clubhouse,” Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager said of having his mentor back. “It’s obviously really nice on a personal level too.”Staying in Los Angeles was an “ideal fit” for the Southern California native (Long Beach Poly High, UCLA) and the decision to continue playing at age 39 was “fairly easy,” Utley said. “I’ve enjoyed playing baseball for a fairly long time and I still enjoy it. I still feel I can be productive in a number of ways,” he said.A six-time All-Star in his prime with the Philadelphia Phillies, Utley’s on-field contributions for the Dodgers have been much more modest. Last year, he batted .236 with eight home runs and 34 RBIs in 127 games, starting 68 at second base, 10 at first base and three at DH. He was 0 for 15 during the Dodgers’ postseason run.Utley’s role could be more diminished in 2018. Second baseman Logan Forsythe figures to get all the starts against left-handed pitching. He batted .290 with an .870 OPS against lefties last season – but he struggled mightily against right-handers (a .190 batting average and .576 OPS), opening the door for a platoon situation.But this year, Roberts said he does not expect to platoon Forsythe against all left-handers.“No, absolutely not. For us, we expect Logan to get the lion’s share of at-bats,” Roberts said. “I think last year against left-handed pitching was certainly under his career norm. So he did some things in the winter to combat that.”Roberts said Forsythe fell into some bad habits with his swing last season that made it longer and “didn’t allow him to consistently get to the fastball.” Roberts said Forsythe addressed that during his offseason work and it already “looks more direct and clean.”Forsythe’s first season with the Dodgers got off to a rough start with foot and leg injuries that sidelined him early in the year and might have led to those swing changes.“He won’t admit it. But I would argue yes,” Roberts said. “Everything in sports, in baseball obviously works from the ground up and when your feet aren’t working the right way and you don’t have that foundation then everything is compromised. I do think that bled into his mechanics and kind of in the middle of a season it snowballed on him.”NOTESLeft-hander Alex Wood threw a slightly abbreviated bullpen session Saturday, his first of the spring after a minor ankle injury postponed it. Wood is on track to throw to hitters next week like the rest of the Dodgers’ starting pitchers. … The Dodgers signed two pitchers with major-league experience to minor-league contracts – left-hander Cesar Ramos and right-hander Justin De Fratus. Ramos, 33, pitched for the Rays, Rangers, Angels and Padres from 2009 through 2016. He spent last season in Triple-A for the Phillies. De Fratus, 30, made 191 relief appearances for the Phillies from 2011 through 2015 but has not pitched in the majors since. GLENDALE, Ariz. — It might be a measure of their respect for Chase Utley that he got the only multi-year contract given out by the Dodgers this winter.Or it might just be a measure of how committed they are at this point to maintaining as much cushion between their payroll and the luxury-tax threshold that they spread his salary out over the next two years (annual average salaries are used in the tax computations).Either way, Utley was in Dodgers camp Saturday after his two-year, $2 million contract became official.“Early on (in the offseason), I let the Dodgers know I’d like to continue to play and staying in L.A. would be my first choice,” Utley said. “Probably not the best negotiating strategy.”center_img Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Errorlast_img read more