We’re nearly into mid-February, so we’re not accustomed to seeing any significant moves taking place around Major League Baseball. Usually, rosters are completely set by now and players are gearing up for Spring Training. But the Dodgers apparently decided they needed a couple last-minute reinforcements.
According to multiple reports, the Dodgers signed both Franklin Gutierrez and Chase Utley to one-year deals, bolstering an already-loaded roster with veteran talent. Gutierrez joins the team that originally signed him more than a decade ago, and jumps into a loaded outfield competition. Utley returns without a clear-cut starting position, after holding down second base in LA for most of 2016.
Most people will be familiar with Utley’s stellar career and how he’s still a fairly productive player at age 38. He did a nice job leading off and playing second for the Dodgers last season, but their recent acquisition of Logan Forsythe probably pushes Utley to the bench as a utility infielder and a left-handed pinch-hitter.
In that role, Utley remains the veteran presence every team values but still provides solid pop off the bench and presents an option to back up Forsythe and even Adrian Gonzalez at first base. “Depth” is the word of the year for the Dodgers, and they get a really quality depth piece — someone who could still be a starter elsewhere — with Utley.
As for Gutierrez, he’s one of those “what could have been” type of players. When he was just entering his prime in 2009-2010 (his first two seasons in Seattle), Gutierrez was a sneaky, underrated, budding star. He hit his stride those years, posting a .264/.321/.715 slash with 30 homers and 41 steals over that span. He was also earning a reputation as a strong defender, winning a Gold Glove in 2010.
Unfortunately, 2010 was the last time Gutierrez played more than 98 games in a season. He played fewer than 60 games per year from 2011-2015 and only got through 98 of them last season. A variety of ailments plagued a really promising career for Gutierrez, but he bounced back a little bit in 2016 to show that he still has some value at the dish, hence the Dodgers giving him a deal.
For how little teams can rely on Gutierrez to stay on the field, they have to admire his pop when he is healthy. In just 248 at-bats last season, Gutierrez clubbed 14 homers, and he popped 15 in only 59 games a year before. His strikeout rates are up, but as a guy who profiles as a fourth outfielder in a best-case scenario at this point in his career, teams will live with that.
Gutierrez won’t be a good defender anymore, but the Dodgers are content with Joc Pederson (for obvious reasons) in center anyway. Gutierrez will likely get a chance to platoon with Andre Ethier in left field or spell Yasiel Puig in right, depending on how those two are faring early in the season. With so many other outfield options, including Andrew Toles, Kiké Hernandez, and Trayce Thompson (injury pending), Gutierrez will have to earn his spot.
But, here’s why the Dodgers needed him, and here’s why they like him as a favorite for a backup outfielder spot: In 186 at-bats last season against left-handed pitching, Gutierrez hit .280/.373/.884 with 12 home runs. His career splits line up similarly, with a .289/.351/.846 slash. This is no fluke; Gutierrez rips lefties. Always has. His numbers are much less impressive against right-handers, so he serves a dual purpose for the Dodgers.
First, he becomes a serviceable backup outfielder who can play both corner positions. Second, he provides a lot of right-handed pop off the bench, and simultaneously strengthens a lineup that was laughably bad against lefties a season ago.
The Dodgers have an embarrassment of riches in the depth department at the major league level (not to mention a stacked farm system), and that might be why they are projected to win a fifth straight NL West title. But it will be the small, savvy moves like re-upping with Utley and adding Gutierrez that make or break their quest at a World Series appearance.
Adding two veterans to the clubhouse who can make huge impacts off the bench, and potentially solving a massive hole in last year’s offense, was an enormous last-minute coup by the front office. Utley and Gutierrez will, if healthy, make a substantial impact for the Dodgers in 2017.
By FRS MLB