Chase Utley finally broke his silence earlier this afternoon and while he didn’t say much, he told Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com that he would like to play in a game next week.
The Phillies always planned to bring Utley along slowly this spring due to his chronic right knee condition, but there are some minor signs that things that haven’t gone according to plan. The 33-year-old second baseman takes batting practice pretty regularly, but as David Hale of the News Journal notes, he backed off taking grounders after feeling pain in his knee early in camp.
Phillies’ general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. continues to express optimism about Utley being ready for Opening Day, but we won’t know much about his status until he begins pushing himself in game action. It’s believed that he’ll need somewhere around 40 to 50 at-bats in order to be ready for the start of the season, so he could be eased into action as a designated hitter on the minor league side before picking up the intensity by playing defense in major league games.
Utley began last season on the disabled list due to his knee condition and didn’t make his debut until May 23. He ended up batting .259/.344/.425 with 11 homers, 44 RBI, 14 stolen bases and a .769 OPS over 454 plate appearances in the regular season and .438 (7-for-18) with two doubles, one triple and one RBI during the NLDS against the Cardinals.
With the 2017 World Baseball Classic around the corner, Team Israel has reportedly reached out to Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi. Tournament rules stipulate that a player’s roster eligibility can be achieved in one of several ways: they were born in the country in question or hold citizenship/permanent legal residence there (or are simply capable of qualifying for citizenship), or one of their parents was born in the country or holds citizenship/permanent legal residence there.
For Kipnis, it’s the latter. Kipnis’ father, Mark Kipnis, is Jewish. That gives Kipnis the status he needs to suit up for Team Israel, despite the fact that he is a practicing Roman Catholic. He has yet to confirm or deny his participation in the competition.
Fifteen players have confirmed for Team Israel so far, including Mets’ infielder/outfielder Ty Kelly and free agents Sam Fuld, Nate Freiman, Jason Marquis and Jeremy Bleich. Per MLB.com’s Chad Thornburg, eight minor leaguers will also appear for the team. Like Kipnis, at least three other major leaguers are eligible for Team Israel’s roster but have yet to accept or decline involvement in the WBC: Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson, Mariners infielder/outfielder Danny Valencia and free agent left-hander Craig Breslow.
Free agent first baseman James Loney has reportedly signed a minor league deal with the Rangers, per FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman. The deal includes an invite to spring training and a $1 million salary if he makes the major league roster in 2017.
Loney picked up a one-year stint and starting role with the Mets in 2016, slashing .265/.307/.397 with nine home runs in 336 PA. While his numbers were down a hair from the .280/.322/.357 batting line he produced with the Rays in 2015, he provided the Mets with a necessary, if underwhelming upgrade over an injured Lucas Duda through most of the season.
The 32-year-old infielder is expected to have some competition at first base, with at least five other candidates in the mix: Jurickson Profar, Ronald Guzman, Ryan Rua, Joey Gallo and Josh Hamilton. Rumor has it that the team is planning on platooning Rua and Profar in 2017, barring any impressive breakouts or injuries during spring training, though Loney could still provide the club with some veteran depth and a decent left-handed bat off the bench.