Utley has been hot since returning from the disabled list, producing a 1.308 OPS in seven August games, but the Cubs' offense has been hot as well. Despite Chicago White Sox pitcher Chris Sale's dominance Sunday in a 3-1 defeat, the Cubs have scored four or more runs in 16 of 21 games since being no-hit by Cole Hamels last month. They've also won 15 of 17.
So why the interest in Utley?
First off, this isn't an idea that just came up. Back when the Cubs' offense was struggling, it made sense to keep an eye on anyone that might fit in. The Cubs kept tabs on Utley's rehab from an ankle injury. But then Kyle Schwarber forced his way into the everyday lineup while Chris Coghlan kept on having good at-bats. The team went on its current run, undoubtedly giving the Cubs at least some pause.
In short, the dynamic on offense changed.
That said, Utley is a veteran whose current hot streak could be of use to the Cubs at his natural position of second base. With Addison Russell at shortstop now, the Cubs don't have anyone with starting experience at second. Starlin Castro and Coghlan have performed OK so far -- though Castro made an error on a routine play there Sunday and made a poor tag on a base stealer Saturday.
"No matter where we are [play] we just want to be part of this team," Castro said Sunday morning. "This is the time we've been waiting for."
Coghlan hasn't looked 100-percent smooth at second yet either, but there's a good chance he'll improve with more reps. He's a good athlete, hard worker and former infielder by trade.
The addition of Utley would affect Coghlan most. His playing time would decrease significantly. And someone who has been on the Cubs for much of the year would have to go to make room on the roster. Maybe they would only be sent out until September, but these aren't small locker-room issues for a team that's on a roll.
By now you must know Coghlan's offensive numbers are misleading. He's had a hard-luck season at the plate with plenty of good at-bats which haven't always produced good results. We could go over a bunch of statistics but know this: Coghlan hits line drives at about the same rate (28 to 30 percent) that MVP candidate Anthony Rizzo does. Rizzo's walk percentage (11.6 to 10.8) is only slightly higher as is his home run percentage (4.6 to 3.5). Then there's this about Coghlan: Twelve times he has come to the plate with a man on second base and no outs. Twelve times he has advanced the runner. If Coghlan isn't getting big hits -- as he did by hitting two home runs Friday -- at least he's doing the little things that help the team win.
This isn't to say Rizzo and Coghlan are equals, far from it. But in Coghlan's platoon role, he has played well. His defense in left field has improved, and it's not a reach to believe it will at second base. Coghlan's hard work and Castro's positive attitude about his benching would be tossed aside with the addition of Utley. The Cubs would need to be sure Utley makes them a better team while keeping chemistry intact. Frankly, that would be hard to do based on playing time issues unless a rookie such as Schwarber sits more. No one wants to see that.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon stated Sunday he's "in touch often" with the front office, but the dynamic isn't one where he would ask for an upgrade at a position. Maybe the Cubs foresaw Russell's move to shortstop long ago and prepared by looking around for help at second. Or maybe they simply saw a struggling offense and were curious if Utley could be an upgrade. But those were issues of last month, and both Coghlan and Castro have put their heads down and gone to work at their new jobs with the right attitude.
Utley might be an upgrade for the lineup, but there's a negative his addition brings to the locker room. Is it worth it?