The Chase Utley situation sounds like something the Cubs went through during their teardown years, a fading All-Star player using his hard-earned no-trade rights to get what he wants.
Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Alfonso Soriano had that leverage. Theo Epstein made it a policy to never give out no-trade clauses when he took over baseball operations on the North Side (until Jon Lester wanted one and the Cubs quickly caved on that point in the $155 million negotiation).
It’s not necessarily a question of whether or not the Cubs want Utley or view the six-time All-Star second baseman as an upgrade or worry that much about chemistry.
The question is whether or not Utley wants to leave the Philadelphia Phillies, the organization that made him a first-round pick out of UCLA in 2000, a decision that helped lead to a championship parade down Broad Street eight years later.
Philadelphia general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. kick-started the news cycle on Tuesday morning, telling a local radio station that it is “very likely” Utley won’t be traded and will finish this season with the Phillies.
“I don’t think that Chase has that desire to leave, frankly,” Amaro told reporters at Citizens Bank Park. “And the Phillies don’t have the desire to move him out of here. We’re going to be open-minded about all of the opportunities that present themselves over the next couple weeks.”
Utley has already cleared waivers, but the financial hurdles are not insignificant. He’s owed roughly $4 million for the rest of this season, plus a $2 million buyout of his 2016 option.
A complicated situation got another variable thrown into the equation with the news that Phillies rookie third baseman Maikel Franco could be sidelined the rest of the season with a fractured wrist.
That would allow Utley and Cesar Hernandez – another promising young player in Philadelphia’s rebuild – to be on same infield together. Playing time is a huge consideration for Utley, who wants a platform to showcase his skills and earn another contract for next year.
The Cubs have options at second base with Chris Coghlan, Starlin Castro and Jonathan Herrera. Manager Joe Maddon also pointed to Tommy La Stella and Javier Baez at Triple-A Iowa as reinforcements.
“We have other guys getting well,” Maddon said. “We have some really nice pieces that aren’t even here yet. Regarding Chase Utley, I know that’s been talked about a lot. I’m just anticipating playing with the guys that are here.
“I really like what we’re doing. So don’t just look from outside. We got stuff inside. Tommy, I think, is starting to swing the bat pretty good right now. I don’t know exactly how well Javy’s swinging the bat, but I know how good he plays defense, what a good baseball player he is.
“That matters a lot to me, too. I kind of like that from-within thing, and I’m kind of used to that, too, especially this time of the year.”
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Utley – who grew up in Southern California and keeps a home in the Bay Area – has reportedly drawn interest from both Los Angeles teams (Angels/Dodgers), the San Francisco Giants, New York Yankees and Houston Astros.
Utley has shown he still has something left at the age of 36, going 13-for-26 in his first seven games since recovering from an ankle injury and coming off the disabled list.
Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer didn’t rule out the idea of adding a significant piece for the stretch run.
“We’ve had discussions about various players that are going to be available,” Hoyer said. “You’re trying to figure out every permutation about how September is going to work, whether it’s how you blunt left-handed relief matchups, how you blunt right-handed relief matchups, how you have a pinch-runner that can go in there and not burn up a player that might be useful off the bench in another way.
“We might be covered (at catcher) with (Kyle) Schwarber and (David) Ross, but we may also do something there. That’s really the conversation: Do we have all those things covered? And if we don’t have them internally, should we go outside?”