Chase Utley wanted to go back to California and used his no-trade rights as leverage to join the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Cubs tried to make a deal with the Philadelphia Phillies for a six-time All-Star second baseman and a 2008 World Series champion. But the ball had been in Utley’s court for weeks, and he wanted assurances about playing time. Dodger Stadium also has obvious appeal for someone who went to UCLA and Long Beach Polytechnic High School.
So with the Phillies and Dodgers finally closing the Utley deal on Wednesday night, it kept the window of opportunity wide open for Chris Coghlan, who has an edge and a take-nothing-for-granted weariness about him at this point in his up-and-down career.
“Shoot, I’m not trying to be Utley one bit, man,” Coghlan said. “I’m not trying to do Utley. I’m just trying to do me. That’s it.”
The Cubs started Starlin Castro at second base against Detroit Tigers lefty Daniel Norris at Wrigley Field. But Coghlan came off the bench to deliver an RBI triple during a 15-8 loss and should be a big X-factor during the stretch run.
Manager Joe Maddon could even see Coghlan grow into the super-utility role Ben Zobrist perfected with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Coghlan emerged as the National League’s Rookie of the Year in 2009 with the Florida Marlins, playing 123 games in left field after coming up through their system as a second/third baseman.
Coghlan’s stock dropped to the point where the Marlins non-tendered him after the 2013 season, forcing him to sign a minor-league deal with the Cubs and earn his way back to The Show through Triple-A Iowa.
“Crazy story,” Coghlan said. “I told my wife a couple years back: ‘It would be really cool to get back to playing the infield again.’ And she’s like: ‘Yeah, do you think anybody would (let you do that)?’
“We had a different manager every year in Miami, so I said: ‘I don’t know. We’ll probably have a different manager next year. But you know what, the one manager I think that would allow me to is Joe Maddon. Look what he did with Ben Zobrist.’
“Sure enough, three, four years later, he’s my manager and now he gives me an opportunity.”
The Cubs tried to trade for Zobrist during the offseason but couldn’t make a deal with the Rays — and couldn’t match the package of pitching the Kansas City Royals gave the Oakland A’s before the July 31 deadline.
“Of course,” Maddon said, Coghlan could have a Zobrist-type impact for the Cubs. “The one thing I don’t think he can do what Zo does is play shortstop. I don’t necessarily see that. But then again, CC probably likes to play third and first more than Zo did.
“So there’s different trade-offs within that. Zobrist as a switch-hitter is a little different, also. But I like the idea of Chris being able to do all those different things that benefit us — and him — long-term. He’s been really good about doing the work necessary. And I know he’s going to continue to do it.
“I just love that player. I think that’s a natural position. People may argue with me, but I do think a super-utility guy is a position. It really lengthens your bench. In-game, it permits you to do more things because you have this versatility. It’s nice to have.”
To get Coghlan’s left-handed bat into the lineup, the Cubs are willing to think outside the box and sacrifice defense for offense. Coghlan isn’t a borderline Hall of Famer like Utley, but he does have 14 homers, 18 doubles, 41 walks and a .778 OPS.
“Again, I’m not comparing myself to Utley,” Coghlan said. “I’m just trying to be the best version of me, reach the capacity for the talent that God’s given me. I don’t care what Utley’s doing. If Utley was on my team, I’d care. But I don’t care what any left fielder’s doing. I don’t care what anybody else is doing, because it doesn’t affect me.
“You guys can compare — and I understand that’s the gig — and I don’t mean any disrespect. (But) I really don’t care what Utley’s doing.”