LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers put a fancy swirl on the last letter of their collective signature this weekend, finishing off their winter moves with a flourish.
Already set with their starting lineup, and with a plethora of starting pitching, the Dodgers worked on their bench in the final days before spring training begins, adding a pair of low-risk, high-upside veterans to the mix.
In the case of veteran infielder Chase Utley, it’s not so much of an addition as it is retention. According to multiple reports, Utley will return to the Dodgers to partake in his 15th major league season in 2017 at the age of 38. He is now three years removed from his last All-Star Game appearance and is not likely to revisit the honor this year, but it did not make him any less valuable to the Dodgers.
The heart and soul of the 2016 Dodgers, who rose to the occasion on multiple fronts last year, will return in a reserve role where the lefty hitter will get time backing up Logan Forsythe at second base and could even see time spelling Justin Turner at third. Both starters bat from the right side.
Also added to the mix this weekend was veteran outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, who will be heading into his 12th major league season, and first in the National League after playing for both the Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners.
Like Utley, Gutierrez will also be making something of a return to the Dodgers organization. The Dodgers signed Gutierrez, then a teenager, in 2000 as a free agent out of Venezuela but traded him to the Indians in 2004 in the deal that brought Milton Bradley to Los Angeles.
Gutierrez not only earned a Gold Glove in 2010 with the Mariners, the right-handed hitter is a career .289 hitter against left-handed pitching with an .846 OPS, potentially providing the Dodgers with a strong platoon candidate to start against lefties. Dodgers outfielders combined for a .647 OPS against lefties in 2016, the second-lowest mark in the NL, so adding him should help improve that performance.
Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman has talked about building the Dodgers into a desired destination for free agents by building a winning culture and a locker room of stand-up individuals. Of course, he probably had elite pitching and good hitting free agents in mind for future years, but the chance to add niche role players with loads of experience fills that description as well.
“It’s almost become trite and kind of a buzzword, but (it) is something that (manager) Dave (Roberts) has talked about a lot, instilling that grinder mentality,” Friedman said recently when asked about clubhouse cohesion. “The season is long, and there are a lot of ups and downs. Having that dynamic the way we want it, we feel like it’s conducive to winning and helping you get through those inevitable ups and downs, but also we think it creates a destination spot where players want to play and our own players want to stay.
“I think we saw that this offseason with us retaining the guys we did (in Rich Hill, Kenley Jansen and Turner). And I think it will help us moving forward as we look to recruit guys from other organizations and retain our own guys.”
The Dodgers are now left to focus on a glut of major league outfielders, undoubtedly one of those good “problems” to have. It sends a signal that the 2017 roster might be headed for further tweaks in the coming days and weeks.
Gutierrez joins a Dodgers roster that has outfield experience from the likes of Joc Pederson, Trayce Thompson, Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier, Andrew Toles and Scott Van Slyke. Even Enrique Hernandez has outfield experience.
Gutierrez has played more center field in his career, although he has transitioned to a corner outfielder in recent seasons, playing most of his games in left field in 2015 and in right field in 2016.
For Utley, it’s possible that most of his action comes as a pinch hitter or as a late-inning replacement in double switches. Whatever the role, it figures to be a far cry from the 138 games he played in 2016, but the Dodgers also give high value to the element that Utley brings to the clubhouse.
Corey Seager gives high praise to Utley, crediting the veteran for keeping him on an even keel on his way to winning the 2016 Rookie of the Year Award. The two infielders have nearby lockers in one corner of the Dodgers’ clubhouse.
“He was tremendous for me,” Seager said two weeks ago at Dodgers FanFest, stressing that he was still hopeful that Utley would return. “I can’t thank him enough for what he did for me. I will still stay in contact with him and I will still ask him for advice. I am looking forward to still having a relationship with him.”
The Dodgers made sure this weekend that the relationship is more face-to-face for the time being than text based.