THE FIRST significant step of the Phillies' rebuilding project that underwent a major facelift in the last week began seven months ago, when franchise icon Jimmy Rollins was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers a week before Christmas.
Rollins arrives back at Citizens Bank Park for the first time since the deal tonight. The former MVP, franchise hit king, and longtime ignitor atop the Phillies' lineup is likely in line for a roaring, standing ovation at the 12-year-old ballpark.
Despite a rough first season in LA - his .216 batting average is tied for the worst in baseball among 111 qualifying hitters - Rollins has maintained his starting job at shortstop, apparently because the Dodgers value his defense, veteran leadership and experience in a pennant race. Corey Seager, considered the top prospect in baseball, is waiting in the wings at Triple A as the team's shortstop of the future.
Perhaps there's a team that feels the same way about Chase Utley, despite his own forgettable 2015 season.
Major League Baseball's trade deadline has come and gone, but players can still move this month and be eligible for postseason play through the waiver process. CSNPhilly.com reported the Chicago Cubs had interest in Utley before Friday's trade deadline, and the Los Angeles Angels and New York Yankees are other potential suitors.
Utley, sidelined for six weeks with a right ankle injury, played in his first rehab game on Sunday, going 2-for-3 with a walk as the designated hitter at Triple A Lehigh Valley. He is scheduled to play with Double A Reading at Trenton on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
Could Utley's next major league game come in a different uniform?
The Cubs obviously had an opportunity to monitor Utley within the last two weeks, when he worked out at Wrigley Field while traveling with the Phillies. The Angels reportedly also kept up with his progress.
"I try not to pay too much attention," Utley told reporters in Allentown about trade rumors. "Obviously, I have friends that send me stuff all the time, but again, like I said, my whole goal is to get healthy and get back to the big leagues."
So how does a player get traded after the trade deadline again?
Most ballplayers get placed on revocable waivers this month, even if their clubs have no intention of moving them; it's a procedural move clubs can use to gauge a player's value. And if they don't intend to keep the player, it's also a way to dump a salary if another team does claim him.
Any player placed on revocable waivers can be pulled back. And in the waiver process, teams with the worst record in the same league on the day of the claim get first crack at the player.
For example: If Utley comes off the disabled list Friday and is immediately placed on waivers, the Cubs would have priority in claiming him before the Yankees or Angels, since they're a National League team. But if another team had interest, or simply wanted to block the Cubs from getting the player, it would have priority if its record was worse than the Cubs on Friday.
A team that claims a player has two days to work out a trade with his original team. This time last year, the Cubs reportedly claimed Cole Hamels off waivers, but weren't able to strike a deal with the Phillies.
With Utley's salary and lack of production this season, it's probably more likely he doesn't get claimed.
In that scenario, a player who passes through waivers can subsequently be traded to any team. Utley, who has a full no-trade clause, obviously has the right to reject any trade, but he has softened on his stance on leaving, saying this spring he'd listen to general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. if he was approached.
Why would a team be interested in Utley?
If the Phillies assume his salary for the remainder of the year, as they have with nearly every other player they've traded in the last week, a contending team would basically be doing the equivalent of buying a lottery ticket in hoping the veteran reconnects with his stroke with renewed health. The cost of that lottery ticket would certainly be a decent prospect; the Phillies aren't going to give away a franchise icon for nothing, even with his current numbers.
Because of all of the reasons listed above, it will probably be complicated to trade Utley.
But the possibility cannot be ignored, since the 36-year-old second baseman is set to become a free agent at season's end - he needed 500 plate appearances for a 2016 vesting option to kick in, but, with 249 plate appearances and less than two months remaining in the season, there's not enough time for him to reach that number in 2015. When Utley returns from the DL, which could be as soon as Thursday, he likely will share time at second base with Cesar Hernandez and possibly at first base with Ryan Howard, too.
Utley said he thinks his ankle injury, which he first suffered in January, played a part in his offensive struggles this season. When he was placed on the DL on June 23, Utley was hitting .179 with a .532 OPS in 65 games; both numbers ranked last among qualifying major league hitters at the time.
" feels better now than it has all year," Utley told reporters Sunday. "One, I definitely feel a difference. Two, I'm not thinking about it, so that's definitely helpful."