In the immediate aftermath of the Trade Deadline, folks immediately begin exploring the possibility of moves in August. (If you missed today’s discussion of how that can happen, read up on trades in August.)
Usually, this comes in the form of speculation, dot-connecting, and purely hypothetical targets that could fit the criteria for an August waiver deal.
But this was awfully specific:
Phillies have traded one club icon in Hamels. Will Chase Utley be dealt? I am hearing some light buzz of the Cubs having interest.
— Jim Salisbury (@JSalisburyCSN) July 31, 2015
Now, “light buzz” is only “light buzz,” but Jesse Rogers immediately followed up:
There is truth to this tweet. https://t.co/WA9O4GLKQK
— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) July 31, 2015
Gordon Wittenmyer subsequently followed up with an article suggesting the same possible Cubs-Utley connection.
In other words, this isn’t completely nothing.
Utley, 36, is struggling through an ugly .179/.257/.275 campaign that has been marred by an ankle injury, which affected him most of the year, and with which he went to the disabled list back in June. He is expected to go out on a rehab stint soon. So far this year, for what it’s worth, Utley has had normal walk and strikeout rates, but a low ISO (.096 versus career .199) and BABIP (.186 versus career .299). Careers can descend rapidly as players move on in their 30s, but, until this year, Utley had still been a very productive player when healthy. Of course, given that he’s currently out with an ankle injury, that “when healthy” clause is not meaningless.
If healthy, it’s not too hard to see Utley contributing to the Cubs, both as a lefty infield bat and a veteran in the clubhouse. Actually striking a deal, though, is tricky, what with the $5 million Utley is owed the rest of this year, and the waiver process to contend with (with that salary, it seems likely that Utley would clear waivers (or at least make it to the Cubs in waiver priority), but not a guarantee). If Utley shows some things on his rehab stint, the Cubs might not be the only interested team.
Further, the Cubs will have Tommy La Stella coming back at some point, as well as Javier Baez possibly coming up. Then there’s Mike Olt and Christian Villanueva still looking for a shot, too. It’s possible Utley won’t be a great fit by the time he actually becomes healthy and available. We’ll see.
Something else to consider with respect to Utley: imagine a scenario where he is healthy, and contributes down the stretch to the Cubs. From there, perhaps the 36-year-old Utley not only wants to continue playing in Chicago, perhaps the Cubs want to bring him back as an option at second base. We’ve discussed this possibility before with respect to the Cubs pursuing Howie Kendrick in the offseason – bringing in a veteran bat to play second base, sliding Addison Russell to shortstop, and reconfiguring other players’ positions as necessary. Depending on how Utley looks heading into 2016, and depending on how the Cubs want to approach things, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could come back as a starter or a complementary piece next year.
And having Utley in-house for the final two months or so puts the Cubs in an enviable position to at least explore the option (with as much information on-hand as possible).