Cubs still looking to add, but Phillies might not move Chase Utley


Cubs still looking to add, but Phillies might not move Chase Utley

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.

[RELATED: With or without Chase Utley, Cubs banking on young hitters]

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.

[MORE: Kyle Schwarber gave Cubs the shot in the arm they needed]

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.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

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?”

It might have been just another dinger in homer-happy All-Star Game, but Willson Contreras will remember it forever

It might have been just another dinger in homer-happy All-Star Game, but Willson Contreras will remember it forever

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Willson Contreras’ third-inning home run might not have ended up standing out too much in an All-Star Game featuring a jaw-dropping and record-shattering 10 dingers.

But, obviously, it will always stand out to the guy who hit it.

“I enjoyed every single second that I spent out there.”

Remarkably, Contreras repeated his feat from two seasons ago, when he hit his first big league homer on the first big league pitch he ever saw. Ditto on Tuesday night at Nationals Park, when he launched the first pitch he saw as an All Star out over the wall in left field.

“When I hit the ball and thought it was gone, I went back to 2016, playing in Chicago. It was the same thing, first pitch for a homer,” Contreras, all smiles, said following the American League’s 8-6 victory. “I’m really blessed with these kinds of situations. Those moments, they’re going to be history and they’re going to be in my mind and my heart.”

Contreras’ long ball was the highlight of the evening for fans watching back home in Chicago. Javy Baez got a hit in his first All-Star at-bat but was outdone by his teammate. White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu was hitless in his two trips to the plate.

And while it will be a highlight on this night for Cubs fans, it will be a highlight forever for Contreras, who enjoyed the heck out of his first All-Star experience.

“‘I did it, I did it,’” he said when asked what was going through his head. “I knew it was something special. And I wasn’t trying to do too much because these guys are nasty, throwing 98 in the first inning. I just tried to get the hit out.”

The nasty guy he went deep against was Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell, whose 2.27 ERA on the season made him a very worthy inclusion on the AL roster. But Contreras was more impressed with the guy who started the game for the National League, raving about Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer after the game.

“He was great, man. Great stuff, he gets so into the game,” Contreras said. “I would like to have him one day on my team or play with him for a few years. That guy is amazing.”

That’s not the current Nationals star Cubs fans are dreaming about, Willy, but point taken.

But it wasn’t Snell or Scherzer or even Baez or Jon Lester, also in the NL dugout, who Contreras was thinking about the most during his home run trot. Instead, Contreras was thinking about his grandfather, Ernesto, who passed away a few years ago.

“My grandpa, he died in 2015,” Contreras said. “I grew up with him.

“He didn’t play ball. But I feel like every time I go out there and step into the box, he’s at my back. It just feels amazing when you hit a homer or do something special, look at the sky and you know that he’s there smiling somewhere.”

It all made for a pretty incredible night for Contreras, who has officially and loudly taken his place among baseball’s best on the game’s biggest stage.

The only thing that was missing? The ball.

Yeah, Contreras didn’t get the ball, not that he really expected to. But if you’ve got it, he wants it.

“I don’t think they’re giving it back,” he said with a grin.

We’ll see. Social media’s a powerful tool. So reach out.

Manny Machado as a Dodger creates a formidable foe out west for the Cubs

Manny Machado as a Dodger creates a formidable foe out west for the Cubs

Well, it's finally happening, or at least it's going to happen. The Athletics' Ken Rosenthal reported during the MLB All-Star game that the Baltimore Orioles had agreed to officially move their franchise player Manny Machado. Neither team has confirmed anything at this time, but the deal has reportedly been as close to a done deal for the last day or so, and it would seem Machado is destined for finish his 2018 campaign in Hollywood. 

Of course, with this addition, the reigning National League champions look primed for another deep postseason run. Though, the club is clinging to a half-game lead in the NL West, with Machado in tow the Dodgers are right with the Cubs and Brewers as the elite squads in the National League. It could be argued the Dodgers didn't necessarily 'need' Machado, with an offense that was already in the top 10 in runs scored, but Machado might be the perfect addition for the Dodgers. 

After losing their young star shortstop Corey Seager for the season with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, the Dodgers were in need of a more permanent solution at shortstop. And despite Machado's defensive metrics showing a steep decline in his glove at shortstop, the Dodgers will welcome his robust slash line of .315/.387/.575 while ignoring any shortcomings on defense. 

But what this means for the Cubs, who are only two games off the 2016 World Series club pace, is the path to another championship will likely require another run-in with the Dodgers. The club's biggest threat has been at this point the Brewers, but it's not hard to envision the Dodgers distancing themselves as the clear favorites in the National League with Machado in the heart of the order.

The good news for the Chicago is at least Machado didn't end up in Milwaukee, but that also could mean the Brewers make a more concerted effort to acquire pitching before the July 30th deadline. The Cubs will also see the return of Yu Darvish, who despite only managing to win one game this season in a Cubs uniform, will be a massive upgrade over the scuffling Tyler Chatwood. If the Cubs pitching can start producing like many expected them to before the start of 2018, and guys like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant start to hit alongside All-Stars Javier Baez and Willson Contreras, it's not hard to imagine the Cubs separating themselves from the pack in the 2nd half of season. 

The Dodgers are no strangers to blockbuster deadline deals, acquiring Yu Darvish in a similar three-month rental situation, but the Cubs getting a bat like Rizzo right and an arm like Darvish healthy would be better than any deal Theo Epstein could make to improve this team. And if it's not enough, the Cubs have a solid track record of grabbing former Dodger rentals in the off-season. The push for the playoffs starts Thursday for the north-siders.