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2017 might be it for Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz

By Tim Kelly, Sports Talk Philly editor

The list of the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies World Series champions still in the league may get even smaller in 2018. 

Though it's far from a certainty, it appears entirely possible that 2017 will be the last MLB season for both Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz. 

Utley, 38, is slashing .227/.326/.389 in 198 at-bats for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017. Utley has split time with Logan Forsythe at second base, both because of a stint on the disabled list for Forsythe and the fact that he had been a disappointing addition to the team. Still, as the stretch run of the season goes on, Forsythe, who even in a down year has outperformed Utley, figures to get a bulk of the starts at second base for the Dodgers. 

That puts the six-time All-Star in a position to be a pinch-hitter and veteran leader as the Dodgers, who have the best record in the sport, pursue an elusive trip to the World Series. 

Trending: Billy Wagner says he would vote for Utley, Rollins for Hall of Fame 

There certainly is value in Utley's leadership  and playoff experience -- many would argue that was the key factor in the team choosing to retain him for the 2017 season -- but there comes a point where the Dodgers may decide that his declining production doesn't make it worth him being on the team. It's very possible that the Dodgers will take the $1 million buyout on Forsythe's $9 million option for 2018 and pursue an upgrade at second base. Perhaps they will re-sign Utley to be the backup for another season, but if his production remains this low for the rest of the season, it's not clear why they would do that. 

Utley had interest from other teams this past offseason, including the Cleveland Indians. Maybe another team will be interested in Utley for 2018. But Utley is from California, went to UCLA and by the end of 2017, he will have spent two-plus seasons playing for his hometown team. With the understanding that he doesn't have much left as a player, Utley may elect to retire after 2018, knowing that he may have to accept a minor-league deal and attempt to make a team next Spring Training. If the Dodgers win the World Series, or even get close, that would seem to be the best time for Utley to walk away. 

Ruiz, who will turn 39 before next season, might not be far behind Utley. 

In his first season with the Seattle Mariners, the club is one game below .500, but very much in play for one of the two Wild Card spots in the wide-open American League. Perhaps if the team was getting better production from their catchers, they would be in control of one of those two Wild Card spots. 

With starting catcher Mike Zunino in the midst of an extremely disappointing season, one that saw him spend some time in Triple-A, Ruiz has also split time with Tuffy Gosewisch. Like the other two, Ruiz hasn't been an effective offensive player this season. A year after a bounce-back season saw him hit .264 in 201 at-bats split between the Phillies and Dodgers, Ruiz is hitting just .231 in 78 at-bats this season. 

The fact that he was under contract for 2016 allowed him to have a bounce-back season last year after a 2015 season where he appeared to be on his last legs. He's not under contract for 2018, so he may not get that chance again in 2018. 

Related: Hall of Fame or not, Phillies should retire the numbers of Utley and Rollins

At 36, A.J. Ellis got a guaranteed contract with the Miami Marlins for 2017, a year after he hit just .216 between the Phillies and the Dodgers. Ellis didn't get that job because the Marlins expected great offensive production from him - he got it because he fields well and tends to have a good rapport with pitchers. Though not the fielder he once was, FanGraphs says Ruiz is still fielding above a replacement level. Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said after acquiring Ruiz this past offseason that the future Phillies Wall of Famer brought 'a winning pedigree to the team.' Perhaps a team, whether it's the Mariners or another team, will sign Ruiz this offseason with that in mind. 

With that said, 39 is ancient for a catcher, and Ruiz has won a championship. If it takes him accepting a minor league deal and competing for a bench job in Spring Training next year, perhaps he'll take on the challenge. Or perhaps he'll decide it's time for him to retire. 

Regardless of what the future holds for the duo, they both are gearing up to be in at least one more pennant race. With the Phillies pushing for the No. 1 pick in next summer's MLB Draft, the idea of Utley or Ruiz potentially getting a second ring doesn't sound like the worst thing in the world. 

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