Now, Utley’s case could impact if he misses two games next regular season. The Dodgers will decline his $15 million 2016 option, making Utley a free agent. However, he turns 37 in December and is coming off his worst season in which he hit .212 for the Phillies and Dodgers with just a .629 OPS.
The Dodgers could conceivably want him back at decreased pay, but as opposed to what would have been in his prime, Utley will not have a robust market.
If only ONE player gets hurt, the rules need to be changed!
What matters is that players get hurt, and while you can’t make rules to eliminate all injuries, you can certainly work to eliminate injuries caused by other players when they deliberately behave in certain ways. It doesn’t really make sense that baseball, as a sport, would leave the door open to vicious takeout slides at second base. It doesn’t go with everything else, especially now that we’ve mostly gotten rid of collisions at home, and the reality is that baseball has enough of an injury problem already. Every year, we lose some of the most talented pitchers in the world, simply because they tried to pitch. That problem isn’t going away in the foreseeable future, and it’s bad for the sport, especially if injury frequencies are increasing. Players should be protected as best they can. Baseball should keep safe as many as it can. It already knows it’s going to lose a few. It should try to keep that number as low as possible.
Middle infielders learn this principle in youth baseball, long before they get to the professional ranks. If you turn your back on the incoming runner, you’re putting yourself at risk. This is one reason why it’s harder, and more dangerous, for the second baseman to turn the double play than it is for the shortstop. At second, you have to square yourself to receive the relay from short or third so you’re always giving some of your back to the runner, which means you have to be very aware of where he is out of the corner of your eye. It’s easier to turn two from short because you can fully see the runner all the way from first. Also, the shortstop has his own form of deterrence: the runner knows he is coming straight at one of the best arms on the field, cocked and loaded with a projectile that is about to thrown extremely hard at the very place from where the runner has just come and now stands as an obstacle. If the base runner values his face, he will get out of the way in any way possible.
That’s how infielders watch out for themselves. If on the other hand an infielder turn his back on a runner, he makes his entire body vulnerable to injury, even if the base runner has no intention of doing him harm. In this instance, even had Utley come straight into second with a relatively gentle slide, Tejada might have gotten badly hurt. The shortstop’s feet were planted right around second base, and that’s the second rule middle infielders learn about the double play—be very careful planting your feet, lest you make yourself susceptible to a very bad injury.
These aren’t the days of Ty Cobb, when some ballplayers were looking to hurt their colleagues. But they’re still professional athletes who are playing hard to beat each other. Moreover, in spite of rules rightly intended to protect the ballplayers, the size and speed of 21st-century athletes further increases the risks in the middle of the diamond. It can get dangerous in there, which is why middle infielders are taught to protect and defend themselves.
For instance, the reason middle infielders jump after throwing the relay on the double play isn’t to leapfrog over the incoming runner like an Olympic hurdler—though it’s cool when you can do it!—but to get even an inch off the ground so that if you get hit the worst injury you suffer is a bruise rather than a break. An additional upside to the jump is that the middle infielder can land all elbows and knees on the sliding base runner to remind him that the infielder is also capable of delivering bruises. And if the base runner is a real jerk who has a habit of looking to actually injure infielders, you might give him a taste of his own medicine and come down leading with spikes.
As a middle infielder himself, Utley knows all this. Indeed, when he was with the Phillies, Utley was one of the game’s premier second baseman. He always played hard, but I doubt very strongly that he’s looking to hurt opponents, especially other middle infielders. In fact, unlike American League pitchers who can throw at hitters with impunity knowing that no one can throw at their heads in return, Utley understands that his opponents know just where to find him—right there in the middle of the infield and as vulnerable as anyone on the double play pivot. And even when he’s not in the field but is coming off the bench to hit, shortstops and second baseman can still tame him and make him hit the deck fast. There’s nothing that discourages a base runner from coming into second hard like seeing a big-league middle infielder drop down under and throw the relay to first from a submarine angle.
“He was flanked by league MVPs, left and right,” said Ed Wade, the general manager when Utley was drafted. “But I think if you boil down his decade worth of performance in a Phillies uniform, I don’t think it would be overstating to say he was the MVP of that era. As good as that core nucleus was, what all those guys did, there was sort of a performance and a heartbeat level that was happening at second base.”
That’s not hyperbole. As calculated by baseball-reference.com, Utley’s WAR is fourth in franchise history. Among position players, it is second only to Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt.
Carlos Beltran, Yankees (38 years old)
Career WAR/Peak WAR/JAWS: 67.0/44.3/55.6
Average HOF CF: 70.4/44.0/57.2
Two years ago, Beltran was amid his second strong season in a row with the Cardinals, one that would finally take him to the World Series; along the way, he added two more homers to a postseason resumé (.333/.445/.683 with 16 homers) to rival that of Big Papi. Ninth among centerfielders in JAWS and closing in on 400 homers, he seemed even more likely to make tracks towards Cooperstown when he signed a three-year deal with the Yankees in December 2013. The short rightfield porch, the big spotlight of a New York homecoming … it all fit together.
by Tom Verducci Alas, Beltran has bombed in the Bronx thus far due to age and injuries, namely a bone spur in his right elbow that required surgery last fall and then an oblique injury that sidelined him earlier this month. He’s hit a combined .245/.307/.414 with 22 homers and -0.7 WAR (including -16 Defensive Runs Saved) in 177 games in pinstripes, and while he still ranks ninth in JAWS, he’s 1.6 points below the average Hall of Fame centerfielder (statistically, a top-heavy bunch), and he’s no lock to close the gap with another 3–4 WAR before his contract runs out. Adding insult to the injury from which he just returned this week, he’s now sitting against lefties in favor of Chris Young. A strong rebound that pushes him to 400 homers (he’s at 380) and 2,500 hits (he has 2,380) would almost certainly help the perception of his candidacy in the same way it has for the once-disappointing Beltre.
After hitting just .179/.257/.275 in 249 at-bats, Utley was sent to the disabled list with a right ankle injury. When he returns, he may find that his run with the Phillies has come to an end.
Is Utley still team’s everyday 2B upon return? “Not for me he’s not,” Amaro said. “Cesar Hernandez is our best second baseman.”
Those are pretty strong words from general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.
Hernandez has performed well over the first few months of the season, hitting .302/.385/.385 over 207 plate appearances.
Hernandez may be the future at second base for Philadelphia, but he’s earned that role mostly by default. Given the state of the franchise, the 36-year-old Utley isn’t going to be on the next winning Phillies club. Hernandez was never really considered a strong prospect, and was viewed more as a backup/utility infielder coming up, so expecting him to be great moving forward might be foolish.