In the week since his return from the disabled list after a six-week absence, Chase Utley's name has been most often linked in trade rumors to the San Francisco Giants. The defending World Series champions are without Joe Panik, their 24-year-old all-star second baseman, who is expected to be sidelined a couple of more weeks because of a back injury.
The Giants, on the surface, make a lot of sense as the landing spot for the 36-year-old Utley, who by virtue of spending 10 years in the major leagues and at least that last five with the same team can veto any trade. Utley's wife, Jennifer, is from the San Francisco area, and it is where the couple and their two young sons make their offseason home.
San Francisco is also, to the surprise of no one, once again in the thick of a pennant race. Bruce Bochy's club entered the weekend just 21/2 games behind the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West and 41/2 games back in the wild-card standings.
But if Utley seeks the best combination of a chance to return to the postseason for the first time since 2011 and regular playing time down the stretch, it is the team that occupied the second wild-card spot entering the weekend that appears to be the best fit.
The Chicago Cubs are the hottest team in baseball, but also sport just a .592 on-base-plus-slugging percentage from their second basemen. In their Friday win over the crosstown rival White Sox, recently benched shortstop Starlin Castro made his first career start at second base, batting eighth, ahead of only rookie shortstop Addison Russell in the lineup.
Over the previous six games, outfielder Chris Coghlan had started at second base for the Cubs, with Jonathan Herrera often entering as a late-inning defensive replacement. Bringing Utley into the fold would add a playoff-tested veteran to a young Cubs lineup, and the six-time all-star could slide right into a regular role. Utley has looked revitalized since his return, flashing a quicker bat and running the bases well, and goes into Sunday's game batting .213 with 13 hits, including five doubles and a home run, in 26 at-bats.
Considering his recent absence cost him a chance to trigger his $15 million option with the Phillies for next season, Utley is expected to become a free agent at season's end. Any team acquiring him this season would be doing so for only the last final seven weeks plus the postseason. Then, over the winter, Utley could choose his next destination.
But as far as the rest of this season goes, ESPN reported Thursday that those close to Utley said he will waive his no-trade clause only if he's assured playing time with his new team. The Cubs could provide that. The Giants could, too, but only until Panik returns, which is expected to happen by the first of September.
Given his age and the fact that he would be a rental, the return for the Phillies in an Utley trade would be far from monumental. Even if the deal does little to expedite the team's rebuilding process - perhaps it would inject another pitching prospect into the system - the Phillies could bill such a move as a way for a franchise icon to experience a shot at winning another championship.
Each of the reported potential suitors for Utley - the Giants, Cubs, Angels, and Yankees - are in the hunt for the postseason and could use second base help. Each makes sense, to varying degrees, as a trading partner for the Phillies.
But with two weeks and change remaining in August, the Cubs appear to make the most sense.