Chase Utley – a six-time All-Star second baseman and a World Series champion with the Philadelphia Phillies – is the biggest name the Cubs have been linked to in a potential August trade.
While Jed Hoyer wouldn’t comment specifically on Utley, the Cubs general manager did say the team isn’t close to any deals. Yet.
“There’s nothing imminent,” Hoyer said before Friday’s 6-5 win over the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. “We’ll keep grinding through the waiver wire, keep looking at what’s available. But nothing’s imminent. We like the way the club’s playing right now.”
The Cubs don’t want to disrupt the chemistry, winning eight in a row and 14 of their last 15 games, moving their playoff odds to around 90 percent on Baseball Prospectus.
Utley does have a 2008 World Series ring and a .902 OPS in 200-plus career postseason plate appearances, though at the age of 36 he’s not quite the same player anymore (.196 average). The San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Angels are among the teams that have reportedly shown interest.
Utley – who grew up in Long Beach, California, played at UCLA and owns a home in the Bay Area – cleared waivers and ultimately controls his destiny as a player with no-trade rights.
San Francisco general manager Bobby Evans told Bay Area reporters that the Giants have made an offer for Utley, who is owed more than $4 million for the rest of this season, plus a $2 million buyout of his 2016 option (which triggers at 500 plate appearances but looks out of reach now).
USA Today reported there’s a belief Utley’s decision will come down to the Cubs and Angels, citing anonymous executives involved in the trade talks.
“I wouldn’t be surprised with anything, honestly,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I know that they’re actively (looking). But then again, this time of year, it’s hard to piece it together sometimes.
“I’m really pleased with what we have. We’re kind of finally figuring out how to fit all the different pieces together – and that matters when you get that nice little flow going out there.
“I would not be surprised, but I’m not expecting anything.”
The Cubs have options at second base after shaking up their middle-infield defense and anointing Addison Russell as the franchise shortstop. Starlin Castro made his first career start at second base on Friday afternoon and notched three hits.
“I feel pretty good out there,” Castro said. “It’s a little different than shortstop because you have everything in front of you and things are a little bit backwards. But, still, if you play short, you can play anywhere.”
Maddon could see Castro as a short-term answer at second base if the three-time All-Star suddenly gets hot.
“Sure, we’ll see how it all plays out,” Maddon said. “I’m very open-minded about that. Listen, this guy has been a big part of the past several years. Like I said, I’m a big fan of his work ethic. I think he really cares a lot. All that stuff matters. He’s just had a tough year to this point.”
The Cubs are willing to sacrifice defense for offense and play Chris Coghlan at second base. Maddon trusts Jonathan Herrera as a steady defender and wants to keep his players fresh. Javier Baez and Tommy La Stella could also be X-factors in September.
The Cubs appeared to max out their 2015 baseball budget at the July 31 trade deadline, addressing specific needs with smaller deals for No. 5 starter Dan Haren and hard-throwing reliever Tommy Hunter without mortgaging the farm system.
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In theory, the Phillies could try to pay down Utley’s salary to get a higher-level prospect for essentially a six- or seven-week rental.
The Cubs also can’t dismiss what a battle-tested veteran like Utley – who’s 7-for-17 in five games since recovering from an ankle injury and coming off the disabled list last week – might bring to the lineup and their clubhouse.
“You’re always very aware of the team dynamic,” Hoyer said. “It’s a fragile thing. The team at this stage of year (has) been together for a long time. But at the same time, I don’t think you can shy away from bringing in a player that – in theory – could make you better.
“It’s a balancing act and one that you talk through and treat with a lot of care. There may never be a right or wrong answer. But I do think you have to pay attention to the team dynamics when you make that kind of move.”