The Philadelphia Phillies have struggled in the early weeks of the 2013 regular season. They are 14-16 thus far, 3.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves for first place in the suddenly tight National League East.
Should the team have a losing record (or even subpar record, for that matter), general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. could choose to trade some of his team's impending free agents.
Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com opines, "If things don't improve, the Phillies might make their noise in July, when [Chase] Utley and the two Youngs [Michael and Delmon], all pending free agents, could become trade candidates."
The Washington Nationals have also struggled a bit, albeit their record is 1.5 games better than their rival's. At 16-15, general manager Mike Rizzo is likely upset with the way his team—a team that was supposed to dominate the rest of the National League—has performed.
Their pitching hasn't been great, but inconsistencies offensively have really been their downfall. Their team batting average of .228 ranks 28th in the majors, ahead of only the Miami Marlins and Toronto Blue Jays. Getting on base has also been an issue, as their .293 OBP ranks them 27th in the league. Only the Blue Jays, Marlins and Chicago White Sox are worse.
A boost offensively could be just what the Nationals need come July 31, so don't be surprised if Rizzo gives his rival GM a call to inquire on Utley.
Danny Espinosa has struggled for Washington. His .176/.213/.329 line is terrible, and his K/BB ratio of 20-to-3 equally as disappointing. He has driven in seven runs, but that's helped by the fact that nine of his 15 hits have gone for extra bases (seven doubles, two home runs).
Steve Lombardozzi hasn't been much better, so replacing Espinosa with the reserve infielder wouldn't make a drastic difference. Lombo's line of .224/.255/.286 is better, but he doesn't provide enough power to drive in that many runs.
This could lead the Nationals straight to Utley. Utley has performed very well in 30 games this season, hitting six home runs and driving in 21. His line of .280/.331/.523 is essentially right on par with his career line (.287/.375/.501).
Utley would give the Nationals yet another power bat to go along with Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche. A quartet of power guys in the middle of the lineup could make their lineup equally as dangerous as the Atlanta Braves'. Such an acquisition would, then, be a good idea to pursue.
Even with his impending free agency, Utley would likely cost a pretty penny in terms of prospects. Washington could offer either Espinosa or Lombardozzi (free agents in 2017 and 2018, respectively), as well as outfield prospect Eury Perez and pitching prospect A.J. Cole.
Perez has stellar speed (224 stolen bases in seven minor league seasons) and sports a strong career line of .307/.362/.373. He'd be a great addition to the Phillies as early as next season.
Cole, a right-handed starter, would provide stability in the back of the Phillies rotation as early the second half of 2014, though with the potential to be a No. 2 starter. His career ERA of 3.84 and WHIP of 1.250 suggest he has promise and that he'll improve with more experience.
Such a package should be enough to acquire Utley. With the past willingness of the Lerner family (the owning family of the Nationals) to spend money, Rizzo could conceivably work on a four-year deal with Utley to remain in Washington after he's acquired. Trading for him without the guarantee of a new contract would not be worth the prospects.
This entire situation is pure speculation on my part, but putting Utley in D.C. would have huge implications on the NL East. Washington's stagnant offense would receive a huge boost, and the Braves may not be able to hold off the defending division champs.
If I'm Rizzo, then I'm on the phone with Amaro if the Phillies appear to be sellers at the deadline in a few months' time.