Why Chase Utley Would Be A Terrible Idea For The Dodgers

Some people believe that the Philadelphia Phillies will be deadline sellers and that Chase Utley is L.A.-bound. (Image source: The Sports Quotient at http://thesportsquotient.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Chase-Utley.jpg)

The Dodgers are planning to make a few decisions before the trade deadline that could potentially  strengthen the team’s position in the National League West.

One position that is being discussed as a possible place for an upgrade is second base.  Mark Ellis has been a superb defensive player for the Dodgers and has also provided the team with some timely hitting, but has found himself injury-prone over the course of the two year contract that he signed last year, and sustained another injury during the eighth inning of Saturday night’s game against the Colorado Rockies that will cause him to miss at least the final pre-All Star Break game.  The Dodgers’ other options at second are Skip Schumaker, Nick Punto, and Jerry Hairston, Jr., all capable defenders with the ability to hit for contact, but none of which are really meant to play and be in the starting lineup every day.

A lot of arguments can be made for bringing Utley to the Dodgers.  The five-time All Star was born in Pasadena, just fifteen minues down the Arroyo Seco Parkway from Dodger Stadium.  He played his college ball at UCLA.  His line of .270/11/30 this year would be an offensive upgrade in many ways over the Dodgers’ other second base options.  Some have suggested that Utley can play both second and third (Utley primarily played third base at UCLA) to allow the Dodgers to play him every day while keeping Ellis and Juan Uribe well-rested.  Others point out Utley’s ability to hit well at Dodger Stadium.  Utley has hit .471 with 3 HR and 4 RBIs in 17 AB at Dodger Stadium this year, though the argument becomes more limited when an examination of the 2010-2012 seasons reveal that Utley only hit .211 at Dodger Stadium the three years prior to this over 38 AB.  Given this, it could be argued that Utley got hot for a series rather than showing he has a history of hitting well at Dodger Stadium.

There are a few problems with Utley, aside from the fact that his “hot hitting” at Dodger Stadium is not backed up by history, that Dodger fans need to be aware of that The Blog believes are indicators that he would not be a good pick-up.

1.)  Age.  Chase Utley is 34 years old.  He’s a 10+ year veteran.  He has absolutely no up-side.  He’s a two month rental showing a statistical decline.  Utley has also committed 11 errors at second base this year in 64 games and has a career-low .965 fielding percentage which is a full 17 points below his career .982 fielding percentage (for comparison’s sake, Mark Ellis has committed 4 errors in 61  games, good for a .985 fielding percentage at age 36 and only a slight decline from his .991 career fielding percentage.)  Logic would indicate that Utley is on the decline, and while some players get hot for two months, the Dodgers would be well-served to cut ties with Utley after the season if they were to acquire him.  After hitting .326 in 43 AB in June, Utley is hitting .222 in 45 July AB and under .200 in the last seven days.  With all of the problems that the Dodgers experienced hitting with runners in scoring position earlier this year and the offensive frustration they’ve experienced, a player such as Utley could wind up just adding to the team’s offensive frustrations while downgrading its second base defense.  Utley’s batting average is only about 15 points higher than Ellis’s and his RBI count is only higher by four (30-26) in a handful more games than Ellis has been able to play this season.  Like Ellis, Utley has also been injury-prone the past two years.  For losing two years of age, the Dodgers would acquire a marginally better hitter, a run producer that isn’t producing runs, and a defensive downgrade.  From this standpoint, the deal makes no sense.

At age 36, Mark Ellis continues to play solid and at times spectacular defense at second base. Despite showing a small amount of defensive decline this season, Ellis’s season fielding percentage of .985 is greater than Utley’s career fielding percentage of .983. (Image source: CBS Sports at http://sports.cbsimg.net/images/visual/whatshot/mark-ellis-52012.jpg)

2.)  Cost.  The Dodgers would likely have to give up a significant piece to get two months of Utley.  Minor league prospects Joc Pederson and Zach Lee would appear to be the most likely candidates that the Phillies would be after in a trade to get Utley.  Some Dodger fans have argued on social media that a deal involving Pederson, Lee and outfielder Andre Ethier for Cliff Lee and Chase Utley would be ideal.  Unfortunately, this is a cost that may be too high.  While a deal that would also include Lee would shore up the pitching staff, it would also add a 34 year old starting pitcher who, while still effective, still has a contract that pays him at $25 million a year through 2015, money that the team would be better-off spending to lock up Clayton Kershaw to a longer term contract and perhaps signing Cuban pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez.  Even without factoring in Lee, the likelihood of giving up Pederson or Zack Lee means the Dodgers would have to lose two of their current minor league cornerstone pieces in order to get a two month rental that is in obvious decline.  Also, trading Ethier or Pederson is risky as the Dodger outfield has found itself injury-prone this year.  Injuries are currently sidelining Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig, all three of whom are starting outfielders.  If the injury problems continue, the Dodgers will most certainly need Ethier in the lineup, and they may even find themselves having to bring up Pederson in an extreme situation.  If Crawford, Puig and Kemp are impacted long-term and both Pederson and Ethier find themselves in Philadelphia, the Dodgers may find themselves fielding an outfield of Jerry Hairston, Jr. in left, Skip Schumaker in center, and Scott Van Slyke in right.  Clearly there is a potential for the cost to the Dodgers in order to get Utley is very steep and may even be detrimental to the team this season.

If a deal for Utley were to blow up, it may impact the team’s ability to clear the required payroll to sign Cuban pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez (Image source: Major League Baseball at http://mlb.mlb.com/assets/images/1/5/0/49838150/cuts/gonzalez640_c6x3k82f_rlvy1c83.jpg)

3.)  Franchise Direction.  Team President Stan Kasten has made it clear that the Dodgers are seeking to put a team on the field that will win now and also develop through the farm system to have a team that will win in the future.  The waiver wire trade that brought the Dodgers Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto already shed the team of outfield prospect Jerry Sands and pitching prospects Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster.  If the Dodgers are truly determined to build for the future, giving away one or both of their top prospects for a player that might not stay with the team for more than a couple months does not make sense, especially if both players go to Philadelphia and Cliff Lee turns out to be part of the package as well.  The Dodgers would be brightening the Phillies’ future while compromising their future in more way than one, especially if there are peripheral effects such as a decision not to sign Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez to a contract.

There is little doubt that the Dodgers will make some moves ahead of the trade deadline to continue to compete in the National League West and overtake the Diamondbacks for the division lead.  However, a “win now” move for Chase Utley is most likely not the answer.

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