Even on a rebuilding team, circling the drain at the end of the season, there can be value in hanging onto a quality veteran. That’s especially true if the player is local hero, great in the clubhouse, and technically still controllable for the next season.
The value described there is not huge, of course. But that’s the thing when you talk about the Chicago Cubs, or another team, picking up Chase Utley for cheap: if it’s too cheap, then it’s not worth the Phillies making a trade at all.
You throw in Utley’s right to block any trade, and you’ve got the recipe for a lot of rumor and speculation that goes exactly nowhere.
That’s what Ken Rosenthal discusses in his latest on Utley, who is desirable to a number of teams as a buy-low veteran presence, but whose situation does not lend itself easily to a trade. The Angels may have come close to a deal, but it didn’t happen. The Dodgers and Giants might soon get their starting second basemen back. Utley may not want to go to the Yankees.
The Cubs, Rosenthal says, tried to trade for Utley back in July when he was still on the DL, but they might not be his first choice, and the Cubs may also be rethinking bringing in someone from the outside given how well things are going.
There’s more on that chemistry component here at CSN and here at ESPN, which is not a zero consideration. Just as my intro discussed the small cost of adding someone like Utley at this juncture, the attendant upgrade could be small – and not enough to justify the impact on the clubhouse. Consider the difficulty we’ve had in figuring out how exactly Utley fits into the mix now that Kyle Schwarber is getting regular starts in left, Chris Coghlan is starting at second against righties, Starlin Castro is starting at second against lefties, and Javier Baez and Tommy La Stella await at AAA with roster expansion coming in just two weeks. All of those considerations bear on a clubhouse where the team is winning, and bringing in a mercenary who may require immediate starts – taking them away from someone else – is a dicey thing.
If the upgrade was clear, certain, and significant (and the player in question is a good clubhouse guy like Utley), then you wouldn’t even worry about this kind of thing. But, given Utley’s down start to the year, the ankle injury, and now short-lived recovery, there’s risk here.
The Cubs might be willing to brave that risk for the possible upside, though, as they’ve had reported interest in August, and now Gordon Wittenmyer reports that they’ve made an offer. Since Utley has no-trade rights, it’s ultimately up to him where, or even whether, he’ll be dealt. Perhaps he, too, looks at the Cubs’ situation and wonders how he would fit in.
As I’ve said all along: a healthy, effective Utley is a no-brainer addition for the Cubs, even if they’re rolling. I’m not sure we know that that’s what he is just yet, though. Then I say to myself, well, even as veteran depth, if the acquisition cost is virtually nothing, then it’s still worth it.
Now, however, I start to wonder about the clubhouse impact. It’s the kind of thing that we outsiders don’t have a great view to, and of which we have trouble evaluating the legitimacy or seriousness. But I know enough to know that it’s a very real consideration.
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