Every once in a while, you see a rumor like this pop up that seems to make no sense at all. Well on Wednesday, Jon Heyman of Fan Rag Sports tweeted that the Indians were "intrigued" by free agent second baseman Chase Utley.
As Heyman admits, however, the Indians have an all-star caliber second baseman on the roster Jason Kipnis. They also have a guy playing out of position at third base, Jose Ramirez, who makes a lot more sense at second base. With all that talent already on the roster, why would the Indians be interested in a 38-year-old Chase Utley?
There’s still a few days left before pitchers and catchers report, so let’s make some wild speculation to pass the time.
Let’s start with a depressing assumption. Let’s assume that Michael Brantley’s shoulder/biceps problems will not allow him to be ready for game action to begin the season. Who’s going to play LF for the Indians? Abe Almonte and Austin Jackson are probably the most likely candidates. Like many Tribe fans, I’ve been hoping Yandy Diaz might also be an option.
Then I remembered Keith Law’s comments about Diaz last week in his Top 10 Indians Prospects list, where Diaz ranked #5. Law said, “Yandy Diaz is ready for a major league job right now and projects as an everyday guy at third base.” That’s a pretty ringing endorsement. There’s only one problem: Jose Ramirez has third base locked down. But Law continued, “He’s played a lot of outfield to try to create another path to the big leagues, but if Cleveland moves Jason Kipnis back to the outfield, Diaz could play third with Jose Ramirez at second.”
As many Tribe fans will remember, Jason Kipnis was drafted as an outfielder out of Arizona State. Other than 18 games at Mahoning Valley in 2009, Kipnis has exclusively played second base professionally. However, Kipnis is now 30 years old and has been an average defender at second. For years, there has been speculation that a move back to the outfield could be good for Kipnis. The team has never indicated any willingness to move him off the dirt, but remember, we’re speculating wildly here. So let’s make another assumption: Kipnis moves to LF, at least part-time, in 2017.
So now we have Kipnis in left, Ramirez at second, and Diaz at third. But wasn’t this post supposed to be about Chase Utley?
At this point in his career, Utley is best as a part time player at second, facing only right-handed pitching or as a lefty pinch hitter off the bench. As a switch hitter, Jose Ramirez hits lefties and righties about the same, so platooning Utley with Ramirez makes little sense. Which brings us back to Yandy Diaz.
We all know how impressive Yandy Diaz has been in the minors. He’s maintained a .400 OBP, and even started showing some power in 2016. But what’s flown a bit under the radar is that Yandy has a massive platoon split. Over the last 3 seasons, Diaz has a respectable .772 OPS against right handed pitching. But against lefties, he’s hit a whopping .343/.442/.493 (.936 OPS) in 365 plate appearances.
Against righties, the Indians could put Kipnis in left, Utley at second, and Ramirez at third. Against lefties, you’d have Kipnis in left, Ramirez at second, and Diaz at third. Thanks to Ramirez’ positional flexibility, you could create an Utley/Diaz platoon, which looks on paper like it would be quite potent.
All that is pretty convoluted, but that’s how Chase Utley fits on the 2017 Cleveland Indians. In other words: let’s all just hope Michael Brantley is healthy on Opening Day.