PHOENIX — If there is one thing that is clear in the opening of Dodgers camp, it’s that the return of Chase Utley was universally lauded by the team.
After starting 118 games at second base for the Dodgers in 2016, the 38-year-old Utley is back with a reduced role, with Logan Forsythe now the regular at second. But the love for Utley goes beyond his play on the field.
"He's such an added bonus for us. Everybody talks about the intangibles, but I really mean it,” pitcher Clayton Kershaw said on Wednesday. “Regardless of how he plays, just what he does here in the clubhouse is the best I've ever seen.”
The Dodgers are bringing back Utley on a one-year, $2 million deal that hasn’t been finalized yet, but will be by the time position players report on Monday.
Strength coach Brandon McDaniel told me place erupted when Utley news broke around Camelback late last week.— Joe Davis (@Joe_Davis) February 15, 2017
Later on Wednesday I prefaced a question about Utley by noting that he seems loved throughout the clubhouse, and president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman interrupted.
"And by the front office, and the medical staff, the coaching staff, groundskeepers," he said, laughing.
I wanted to know what it was about Utley that made him such a great teammate.
"I've never been around a guy that basically any moment in time, on the clubhouse or on the field, is doing something to try and help us win a game,” Friedman elaborated. “Often times it's about him getting ready for a game, but there are times where he's watching video of our pitchers, just different things all with the mind of trying to help us win a game.”
Chemistry is a difficult thing to quantify, but that hasn’t stopped this front office from trying.
"We talked about doing everything we can to change the culture,” Friedman said. “It's a little cliche at this point, but it is something that motivates us every day. There was a seismic shift and movement in that direction last year.”
Manager Dave Roberts was a big part of fostering that winning culture last year, and now with a season under his belt and 21 of the 25 Dodgers from the NLCS roster returned, he is looking to keep things rolling.
Chemistry might be hard to pursue, but maybe once you find it you do everything you can to hold onto it for dear life, for as long as you can. Perhaps that is the path to making the intangible tangible.
Roberts, who in January at the baseball scouts foundation dinner called Utley his “favorite player of all time,” on Wednesday mentioned one of Utley’s strengths as well.
"He's at the top of the list as far as eliminating noise. In baseball there is so much failure and deviation in routines and schedules with weather, travel, playing or not playing,” Roberts said. “Chase is very consistent, as consistent as I've ever seen with his mindset, and that has a way of filtering throughout the clubhouse.”