According to Jon Heyman, the Cleveland Indians are “intrigued” by Chase Utley and perhaps he could he fill their need as a utility infielder.
The Cleveland Indians have had one of their most exciting offseasons in a while, adding one of the best free agents on the market in Edwin Encarnacion and one of the best left-handed relievers in Boone Logan. For a team with few holes heading into the winter, the club has seemingly filled them all, or at least the biggest ones (bullpen, designated hitter).
However, the Indians still seem to be interested in adding a utility infielder and according to Jon Heyman, they are “intrigued” by free agent Chase Utley.
As Heyman mentions, on the surface this marriage seems kind of odd. The Indians have All-Star Jason Kipnis locked in at second base for the 2017 season (and beyond). Utley is now 38 years old and has played almost exclusively at second base in his career. The Indians also have Carlos Santana and Encarnacion locked into first base/designated hitter, so Utley couldn’t even get at-bats as a DH. So why would the Tribe have any interest?
While Utley has been primarily a second baseman in his career, he has spent time at first base throughout his career (33 games over seven different seasons). He even got a couple looks at third base the last two years, though just four games and 27 innings. That’s not ideal for a utility infielder, especially one at his age, but perhaps the Indians feel he could play more positions in 2017.
Omar Vizquel is an example of an aging infielder who did become a utility guy very late. Utley could possibly play some third base and allow Jose Ramirez to do what he did in 2016 and play some outfield. This would be even bigger for the Indians if Michael Brantley has any issues related to the shoulder again.
Utley would also bring some veteran leadership to the Indians who lost a big one with Mike Napoli signing with the Texas Rangers. Utley has a ton of postseason experience with the Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angels Dodgers (59 games), including a World Series Title back in 2008 with the Phillies.
Utley is coming off a solid 2016 season as well and the bat is something that would help the Indians. Overall his offense continued to be somewhat lackluster but the left-handed hitter was a solid platoon bat.
Against right-handed pitchers last year, Utley hit .273/.343/.425 with 12 home runs and a 111 wRC+. He also played solid defense and was a plus baserunner, as usual, resulting in a 2.0 fWAR. Utley likely doesn’t want to accept a utility role, though we’re in the second week of February so his options are clearly limited.
The Indians may have to get a bit creative to get him at-bats (perhaps Santana plays some outfield?) but the bat would be a welcome addition on the bench and Utley would be a big upgrade over the likes of Michael Martinez or Erik Gonzalez.
The intensity of the Tribe’s interest likely remains low and Heyman did say intrigued “a bit” so it’s not like the Indians are beating down the door to sign Utley, as their payroll is already over $30 million higher than Opening Day 2016. But if the player and team could work something out, Utley would be a very intriguing addition for the Cleveland Indians, if not an unconventional one.