Beltre is simply the best position player that might be available on the trade market this year and while there haven't been a lot of rumors that the Rangers are shopping him, it makes sense that they would be: Currently 16 games out of the AL West, 10 games out of the AL Wild Card, and seemingly every time they start to make a run, someone else on their club gets hurt.
Beltre's heir apparent, Joey Gallo, is also tearing up the minors, slugging .700 across two levels this season (although the 42% K-rate at AA might give the organization that gave up on Chris Davis a bit of pause) and with Roughned Odor, Elvis Andrus, and a soon-to-return Jurickson Profar, there is enough depth on the current infield that Beltre is certainly expendable.
The Cardinals desperately need a bat of Beltre's impact: ZiPS projects him to hit .307/.352/.507 the rest of the 2014 season. As a bonus, he's perhaps the best defensive third baseman in baseball for the last decade, racking up 191 career defensive runs, although he's slipped a bit the last couple of years per UZR. He's signed through 2016 with $18M due him in 2015 and a $16M vesting option in 2016 based on plate appearances in the 2014 and 2015 seasons. He likely won't get to 1,200 required PA's for both seasons combined, so the option would vest based on 600 PA's in 2015, a not-so-unrealistic possibility.
The worry is that if you take him out the hitters parks that he's been so good in for the last 4+ seasons that you'll get more of the hitter he was when he was playing in SafeCo 81 games a season: The 100-110 wRC+ hitter vs. the 135-145 wRC+ hitter. That's a significant difference and it can't totally be ignored, but I'm willing to gamble with a Hall of Fame worthy talent.
Matt Carpenter slides over to second base to accommodate him, Daniel Descalso or Kolton Wong come off the active roster to make room, and the 40 man impact would depend on what got sent back to Texas in trade. They certainly don't need to trade Beltre, as they have enough talent to make a run as soon as next year, should they not resemble the M.A.S.H. unit they've been this season. The Cardinals would likely have to part with Stephen Piscotty in any trade for Beltre, as well as a couple of minor league arms as Texas finds itself short on pitching depth due to injuries.
Piscotty, Marco Gonzales, James Ramsey, and a PTBNL is probably enough to get significant consideration from the Rangers. Piscotty could be especially valuable to them if they decide to go into sell mode and trade Alex Rios as well. While that seems like a lot, keep in mind that none of those players are likely to impact the Cardinals roster in any measurable way in the next two seasons.
Utley has been healthy all year this year and can still hit, field, and run the bases whilst playing a position that the Cardinals haven't had much, if any, luck filling either in free agency or via the farm system over the past decade. His left handed bat and gap power would likely play well in Busch III, as long as his knees can hold up, which is really the biggest question mark about Chase Utley: What is the likelihood he can stay healthy in the stretch run?
ZiPS projects him as a .271/.343/.444 hitter the rest of 2014, good for a 118 wRC+, and considering the Cardinals are currently 29th in MLB in wRC+ from second baseman this year (a whopping 55 wRC+ in total) and Kolten Wong may not be 100% the rest of the season, trading for Utley makes a heck of a lot of sense. It's the one position that the Cardinals will see the biggest marginal upgrade overall (and the Beltre trade addresses this too, since Carpenter would move back to the keystone in that scenario)
I'm not a huge fan of his contract, what with all the vesting options based on health, but it seems reasonable to assume that the Cardinals would buy him out in 2016 for $2M rather than go year-to-year with his vesting options. So, assuming he doesn't have a DL stint longer than 15 days in 2014, he's owed $15M in 2015 and coupled with his $2M buyout in 2016, would cost the Cardinals just over $22M total, including the prorated portion of Utley's 2014 salary. That's a pretty good deal for a 4 WAR second baseman, which Utley certainly is when he's healthy.
Finally, there's the issue of Utley's no trade clause. His current contract gives him full no-trade protection, which he would have at this point anyway due to his 10-5 status, and that presents a bit of a hurdle that Beltre's contract does not. One would assume that he would like a chance to play for a club with a realistic chance at winning the World Series while also staying in the National League where he's played his entire career. That could potentially lower his value, as the market will be limited to just teams that Chase Utley wants to play for.
Kolten Wong, James Ramsey/Randal Grichuk, and a C prospect.
The Phillies have needs everywhere, having pretty well emptied their farm system in pursuit of division titles and World Series chances with the current roster of aging veterans. Wong provides them an immediate fill in for Utley and Ramsey is a solid bat that can play anywhere in the outfield and could arrive as early as next year.
Throw in a lower minors outfielder (we have plenty) or pitcher (we have even more of those) and this deal gets done without the Cardinals giving up any of their top arms or outfield bats. Sure, Wong would make nice insurance for Utley the next couple of seasons, but Greg Garcia can provide that, as can Breyvic Valera or Aledmys Diaz should they continue to progress as players.
These are the best two options for the Cardinals to upgrade the current roster with a bat, displacing just Kolten Wong in both cases (who, again, might not be 100% for the rest of the season and certainly hasn't hit well save for a two week stretch in May). On Saturday, I'll take a look at the more marginal upgrades the Cardinals may be considering.