August 19, 2015
After 13 years, 6,617 at-bats, six All-Star appearances, five division titles, two National League pennants, and one world f#@%!$& championship, Chase Utley is no longer a Phillie. Even well after the July 31st trade deadline, the 2015 nostalgia tour is rolling along full speed ahead as the Phillies’ longtime fixture at second base will now join his friend and former double play partner on the West Coast.
Late Wednesday night, the Phillies announced that Utley has been traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers along with cash considerations for two minor-league prospects, outfielder Darnell Sweeney and right-handed pitcher John Richy. In addition to teaming up with Jimmy Rollins, the 36-year-old second baseman said he waived his full no-trade clause for a few reasons. The first was the chance to suit up for a contender, to play meaningful late-season baseball again. Next, he wanted the opportunity to play, "to participate a little bit" in his own words.
Finally, Utley found the idea of playing in Southern California appealing. He grew up watching the Dodgers in Long Beach (even attending a World Series game in 1988) and played college baseball at UCLA before getting selected by the Phillies with the 15th overall pick in the 2000 amateur draft. According to Utley, this was a decision that had been in the works for a while.
"Three weeks ago or so I had a conversation with Ruben," Utley said. "I think everyone knows my love and affection for the city. We put our heads together and decided it might be best for us to part ways. I gave them a list of a handful of teams that I would consider playing for, and then it was Ruben’s job to find the best deal he could for the organization."
Ironically, the Dodgers were the team that selected Utley out of high school in the second round in 1997, but they were unable to sign him. The Phillies are assuredly thankful for that. The timing of the move, just one day after general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. (who is going out with a bang, if he is indeed on the way out once Andy MacPhail assumes control) said it was “very likely” Utley would stay in Philly through the rest of the season.
On Wednesday night, Amaro emphasized that the last day wasn't an easy one for him personally.
"To have to take him away from our organization and put him in another one is not what I’d consider something that is particularly gratifying," Amaro said. "But I can say that I believe this is the best thing for all parties at this stage of the Phillies' development and this stage of Chase’s career."
After the exodus that has taken place in large part over the last calendar year, only first baseman Ryan Howard and catcher Carlos Ruiz remain from the 2008 World Series team. As Howard joked after the game, "And then there were two."
"You know, it's what happens," Howard said. "All things come to an end. We had a great run and now things are definitely changing."
As for his role with the Dodgers, the plan is reportedly to play Utley at his natural second base until Howie Kendrick comes off the disabled list (left hamstring strain) at some point in early September. So for at least a little while, Phillies fans should have the opportunity to watch Utley and Rollins reunite up the middle for a contender. From 3,000 miles away, but still.
"I think it's cool," Howard said of his two longtime teammates getting back together. "It's pretty funny with both of them being from California and [Chase] possibly being able to go out there and hook back up with Jimmy. I think it's pretty awesome."
For Los Angeles, only two games up on the rival San Francisco Giants in the race for the NL West title, every game matters. There is arguably even more urgency to win the division because the Giants find themselves three back of the Chicago Cubs in the race for the second wild-card spot. San Francisco was previously reported to have interest in acquiring Utley for the stretch run.
According to Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles, Utley will play a combination first and third base once Kendrick returns:
Plan is for Utley to play second while Howie Kendrick is out, then play some first and third when he returns.— Mark Saxon (@markasaxon) August 19, 2015
Prior to Wednesday’s game against the Blue Jays, Utley went through his normal pregame routine: stretching, batting practice, and taking a few ground balls at second. Manager Pete Mackanin said before the game that his veteran second baseman had a scheduled day off due to the Blue Jays’ left-handed starter, Mark Buehrle. Utley was in the dugout during the Phillies’ 7-4 win and partook in the handshake line afterwards. As fans cheered him walking off the field, he quickly tipped his cap in acknowledgement. According to CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury, that was all Utley was allowed to do:
Source says delay on Dodgers' end. Phillies had hoped to have deal done so Utley could acknowledge fans during game— Jim Salisbury (@JSalisburyCSN) August 20, 2015
According to Howard, Utley was still focused on the game rather than saying any goodbyes with the deal not yet official. In other words, "Chase was Chase." Howard lauded his preparation and intensity, and younger players expressed similar sentiments. Pitcher Adam Morgan, who earned a win and pitched seven strong innings against Toronto on Wednesday night, had high praise for Utley as well.
"He talked to me a lot about pitching, coming from a second baseman," Morgan said. "I would just try to be the biggest sponge I could be and soak everything up."
Earlier this month, Utley cleared waivers, which provided the Phillies with the opportunity to trade him before August 31st. It also allowed them to eat some of the money he is owed for the rest of the year, as well.
Utley, who Harry Kalas famously took to calling “The Man,” is everywhere on the Phillies’ all-time leaderboards. What immediately jumps out is that his career 61.7 WAR ranks second behind only Mike Schmidt in the franchise’s 133-year history. His 233 homers rank sixth, 1,551 games played eighth, and 1,623 hits ninth. And of course, the 173 times he was hit by a pitch is almost double that of anyone else.
"It was a very very difficult decision for me and my family to go," Utley said. "It’s not so much changing uniforms, but it’s really about leaving this city, which has given so much to me over the 12 or 13 years I’ve been here. So it’s definitely difficult, but like Ruben said, it’s time."
As one of the core members of a golden era of Phillies baseball, Utley had more than his fair share of memorable moments in big spots. In this writer's opinion, the three that come to mind initially are: The five homers against the New York Yankees in the 2009 World Series (specifically the two against CC Sabathia in Game 1); The two-run shot off the Tampa Bay Rays’ Scott Kazmir in the first inning of the 2008 Fall Classic; This play, his defining moment, which words might not be able to do justice:
For his part, Rollins sounds excited about a possible reunion, and Utley confirmed that they have spoken recently. When he woke up on Wednesday, Utley was 59th all-time in plate appearances made for only one franchise, but barring something crazy, he will be off that list shortly.
He is now a Los Angeles Dodger.
Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann