Phillies trade Chase Utley to Los Angeles Dodgers

One last time, Chase Utley emerged on the field and walked through the handshake line with his teammates after a 7-4 victory over Toronto. When it ended and it was his turn to brace the stairs leading to the tunnel, the Phillies icon offered a casual tip of the cap to the fans gathered behind the dugout at Citizens Bank Park.

This was the final act of a storied Phillies career. Late Wednesday, the rebuilding team finalized a trade to send Utley, one of the city's most beloved athletes, to the Los Angeles Dodgers for infielder/outfielder Darnell Sweeney and minor-league righthander John Richy. Sweeney, who was in triple A, took Utley's spot on the active roster.

The Phillies sent cash considerations to the Dodgers reportedly worth about $4 million of the roughly $6 million Utley is owed through this season, including the buyout of his option for 2016. The six-time all-star second baseman waived his full no-trade clause to facilitate the trade.

"The hardest part is leaving the city of Philadelphia," Utley said in a late-night news conference at Citizens Bank Park. "They've been so good to me and so supportive of me over the years that I can't thank them enough for it. But I'll try."

Utley, 36, was Philadelphia's longest-tenured professional athlete. He claimed that title after the December trade of Jimmy Rollins, his longtime double-play partner with whom he will be reunited in Los Angeles. The deal means only Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz remain from the Phillies' 2008 World Series championship team.

"And then there were two," Howard said, standing just feet away from Utley's mostly cleared locker. "It's definitely different, and it's definitely kind of a weird feeling."

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Utley, who did not play Wednesday, is set to become a free agent at season's end. Despite a recent hot streak, he is hitting just .217 this season, the first portion of which he played through a right ankle injury.

Joining the first-place Dodgers offers him a chance to return home to Southern California and chase another championship. Their second baseman, Howie Kendrick, has been sidelined since Aug. 9 with a strained left hamstring. Kendrick is expected to be out until September.

"My goal going there is to win," Utley said. "That's the bottom line."

Utley said about three weeks ago he spoke with general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and they "decided it might be best for us to part ways." Utley gave Amaro a list of teams he would consider joining and Amaro set forth to find the best deal he could for the Phillies. The decision to leave, Utley said, was "very, very difficult" for him and his family.

"Chase is an iconic, generational player here in Philadelphia, and arguably one of the most popular and most successful players we've ever had in our organization," Amaro said. "To have to take him away from our organization and put him in another one is not what I'd consider something that is particularly gratifying. But I can say that I believe this is the best thing for all parties at this stage of the Phillies' development and this stage of Chase's career."

For 13 years, Utley endeared himself to Phillies fans with his relentless hustle and compact lefthanded swing. His first major-league hit was a grand slam. Harry Kalas dubbed him "The Man" in August 2006 after Utley, stealing third, ran through the base and scored on a Howard chopper to Atlanta Braves pitcher Macay McBride.

For five seasons beginning in 2005, Utley was one of the best players in all of baseball. The only player better in 2008 may have been St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols, that season's National League MVP. Utley had 33 homers and 114 RBIs that season. He slugged home runs in Games 1 and 3 of the World Series, Philadelphia's only championship in the last 32 years.

Utley's five home runs in the 2009 World Series loss to the New York Yankees are matched in the record book by only Reggie Jackson in the 1977 fall classic. The '09 season also marked the fourth straight summer in which Utley started at second base in the All-Star Game. He represented the National League in his fifth the next year but did not play in the game because of injury.

Chronic knee issues plagued him the next two seasons. He did not debut until May 23 in 2011 and June 27 in 2012. His 2013 season began on schedule and resulted in his best campaign since 2010. A torrid first half in 2014 led to his return to the All-Star Game. A struggle-filled second half of 2014 preceded this season.

In December, Rollins accepted a trade to the Dodgers after he softened his unwillingness to waive his full no-trade clause. The Phillies' shift from perennial contenders to long-term rebuilders prompted questions about Utley's future. He arrived at spring training saying he would listen if Amaro approached him about a trade offer but wanted "nothing more than to play for his organization for as long as I can."

A sprained right ankle he suffered during a January workout in San Francisco delayed the start to Utley's spring training. He eased into games and capped Grapefruit League play swinging a hot bat. It did not translate to the regular season, and his struggles quickly became more than just a slump.

Persistent ankle problems landed Utley on the disabled list for six weeks. He returned on Aug. 7, at which point he looked revitalized, especially at the plate. His 31 at-bats since his return yielded 15 hits, including five doubles and a home run.

Utley was a childhood Dodgers fan. He grew up in Long Beach, Calif., about 25 miles south of Dodger Stadium, where as a 9-year-old he watched Orel Hershiser hurl a three-hit shutout in Game 2 of the 1988 World Series against Oakland.

The Dodgers were the first team to draft him, in the second round in 1997, but the Long Beach Polytechnic High School star opted to honor his commitment to UCLA. The Phillies selected him with the 15th overall pick three years later, and on July 29, 2000, he officially became a member of the Phillies.

"It's going to be difficult not seeing the Philly fans out there in their support," he said. "But I just hope they know how much I appreciated their support over the years."


kaplanj@phillynews.com

@jakemkaplan