With long-sought second baseman Chase Utley off to Los Angeles, and off the trade market, the Cubs are left to rely on their own best lefty-slugging options to fill the Utley hole at second.
Chris Coughlan, you’re up.
“Shoot, I’m not trying to be Utley one bit,” said Coghlan, who has three home runs in his last two starts at second, among a career-high 14 this season. “I’m not trying to do Utley. I’m just trying to do me, that’s it.”
To be fair, nobody’s asking Coghlan to be Utley, the six-time All-Star who was traded by the Phillies to the Dodgers on Wednesday for prospects. The Dodgers are paying less than $2 million of the salary left on Utley’s contract.
Sources say those are the same terms the Cubs had discussed with the Phillies after a lengthy pursuit of the 36-year-old. Utley held up the process with his no-trade rights, looking for playing-time assurances, and angling for a destination close to his California roots, sources say.
The stalemated process broke free after Phillies officials told Philadelphia media Tuesday that they expected Utley to remain with their club the rest of the season.
Just because Coghlan’s no Utley, doesn’t mean he’s not a critical factor for the Cubs lineup over the next six weeks sans Utley.
“I’m just trying to be the best version of me,” he said.
And that’s the point. Coghlan only made his first start at second for the Cubs two weeks ago as the Cubs shifted Addison Russell to shortstop and benched Starlin Castro.
The bigger picture is it’s one of five positions he has played this year, and that versatility provides a value unique to the roster for a manager who loves that kind of player – and who is looking for ways to keep Coghlan’s lefty bat in the lineup (.823 OPS in second half).
If he can’t be Chase Utley, he might at least approximate Joe Maddon favorite Ben Zobrist, the super utility guy the Cubs manager leaned on for years with contenders in Tampa Bay.
“Of course he could,” Maddon said. “I like the idea of Chris being able to do all those different things. It benefits us and him long term.”
Unlike Coghlan, Zobrist is a switch-hitter, and he’s able to play shortstop. Unlike Zobrist, Coghlan can handle the infield corners with more ease.
“Yeah, I think I can do that,” said Coghlan, who actually envisioned a return to his infield roots after he had become a full-time outfielder a few years ago.
“I told my wife it would be really cool to get back to playing the infield again,” said Coghlan, who was with the Marlins then.
“I told her, `The one manager I think would allow me to is Joe Maddon. Look what he did with Ben Zobrist.’
“And then, sure enough, three or four years later, he’s my manager and now he gives me an opportunity to play there.
“It’s flattering that he believe in me. I appreciate that. I would love to be able to do that.”