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Dodgers welcome back Chase Utley with two-year, $2-million contract

Chase Utley is congratulated by Enrique Hernandez after scoring a run in Game Six of the 2017 World Series at Dodger Stadium.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Chase Utley contacted Dodgers strength and conditioning coach Brandon McDaniel a week after the World Series ended. Utley was technically a free agent, but he sought a place to train, and he did not want to hide his intentions for the 2018 season. He asked if Dodger Stadium could he his home base for the winter. The organization welcomed him, aware of the reverential status Utley holds in their clubhouse.

“Early on, I let the Dodgers know that I’d like to continue to play, and staying in L.A. would be my choice,” Utley said on Saturday morning at Camelback Ranch. “Probably not the best negotiating strategy, but at this point in my career, I need to be honest and truthful with them.”

His approach worked. Because of the bizarre nature of this winter — in which dozens of free agents remain unsigned midway through February and a separate camp for unemployed players has opened in Florida — this bit of trivia may not hold up. But for now, consider this: The only multiyear contract the Dodgers handed out during the offseason went to a 39-year-old second baseman.

On Saturday, the team finalized the two-year, $2-million contract Utley had agreed to earlier in the week. The organization had done little to hide his impending return. When pitchers and catchers reported to Camelback Ranch on Tuesday, a pile of mail addressed to Utley was waiting by his locker.

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The Dodgers operated mindful of their luxury-tax payroll throughout this past winter. By spreading Utley’s salary over two seasons, the team reduced the average annual value of the contract, which allows for more flexibility as the team aims to stay beneath the $197-million threshold.

Utley hit .236 with a .728 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 2017. Manager Dave Roberts envisioned Utley occupying a similar role this coming season. Utley can spell Logan Forsythe at second base against certain right-handed pitchers. He can also serve as a left-handed hitter on the bench.

“To have Chase on your roster makes your team better,” Roberts said. “Whether it be starting in certain spots, coming off the bench, whatever the role, I know Chase is in on [it].”

The Dodgers believe Utley’s value extends well beyond the diamond. His teammates regard him with something approaching awe. “We got our leader back,” catcher Austin Barnes said.

Utley worked out at the ballpark for most of the winter with a group that included Barnes, Justin Turner, Joc Pederson and Enrique Hernandez.

“Being around Chase, it’s motivation,” Hernandez said. “He’s in the best shape of anybody out here, and he’s the oldest. You can’t let the 40-year-old beat you.”

Utley will not reach that exact milestone until next December. And even then, his contract lasts another season. He did not seriously consider retirement, he said.

“I’ve enjoyed playing baseball for a long time, and I still enjoy it,” Utley said. “I feel like I can be productive in a number of ways. I’m excited to be back. I’m excited to get spring training started.”

SHORT HOPS: Alex Wood tested his right ankle with a 28-pitch bullpen session on Saturday. He had injured himself during calisthenics on Thursday. Wood indicated he was still limited in the amount of running he could do, but did not expect his throwing program to be effective. Wood planned to throw a lengthier bullpen session on Monday, followed by a round of live batting practice on Wednesday.

andy.mccullough@latimes.com

Twitter: @McCulloughTimes


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