Will Cubs’ failure to lure Chase Utley haunt stretch drive?
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LOS ANGELES – Joe Maddon’s penchant and/or gift for moving players all over the field and using multiple platoons might have played a role on former Phillies second-baseman Chase Utley landing with the Dodgers instead of using his no-trade rights to push for the Cubs earlier this month.
The six-time All-Star, who is hitting .364 with a 1.001 OPS since returning from a season-long ankle injury this month, refused more than once Saturday to say whether the Cubs were on the list of teams he told the Phillies he would accept.
But he acknowledged that playing time was a major factor in his decision.
“Obviously, this year hasn’t gone as well as I would have liked, missing some time with my ankle, which I felt had some effect on my performance,” said the lefty hitting Utley, who helped beat the Cubs 4-1 in Friday’s series opener with an RBI triple in the third and leadoff walk in a three-run sixth. “I wanted a chance to get out there and play. And all the teams that had interest in me that I had interest back, there was an opportunity there.”
The Cubs head toward September in a playoff chase, in which the closest challenger for the final wild-card spot could be the second-place team in the National League West: likely the Dodgers or Giants.
That would mean only two of those three teams – all of whom pursued Utley – make the playoffs.
Which gives Utley a chance to directly impact that three-team race – whether by his addition and/or as the one that got away.
The Cubs, who were in on Utley from the start of August, turned second base into a fluid positon a week into the month when they benched Starlin Castro and moved rookie Addison Russell from second to shortstop. But Maddon has used it as a means to keep Chris Coghlan’s left-handed bat in the lineup when Kyle Schwarber plays left field.
“I looked at a number of different things to put my list together that I felt would have been beneficial for me and the organization,” he said when asked about Maddon’s constantly shuffling lineup. “But it came down to the Dodgers having the best offer on the table, and I felt comfortable coming here. I grew up here. It’s cool being a Dodger.”
So were the Cubs one of the teams he had interest in?
“I don’t want to dissolve any rumors or matter-of-fact any rumors,” he said. “I think the Cubs have a great organization, and I think what they’re doing with their guys coming up – obviously, they have a lot of talent – I think they have an opportunity to win for a while.”
Meanwhile, Utley accepted a trade to his hometown Dodgers Aug. 20, the day after Phillies executives essentially called him on his foot-dragging by telling media they expected him to stay in Philadelphia the rest of the season.
Utley, who also acknowledged his desire to be closer to his California roots played a role, was attractive to the Cubs for not only the potential of his All-Star bat, but also for his presence as a veteran of five postseasons and influence on a young team.
“I have a little bit of experience over the years,” he said, “I feel like we had a pretty good run of getting to the playoffs, getting to the World Series [twice], winning a World Series . At this point here in L.A., I’m just obviously trying to contribute as much as I can on the field, but off the field try to be myself and try to help guys any way I can.”
“I know we’re glad to have him,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.
“It was a tough decision to leave Philadelphia,” Utley said, “a place that I’ve been for so long and a city that’s treated me so well. But for the Phillies to get some players that they liked and also me getting an opportunity to play in the postseason again, I thought it was best for everyone.”