Most phones have built in emergency GPS transmitters. Fortunately, the law protects you from being tracked by anyone except yourself unless you are in an emergency. If you contact your provider, they may allow you to track your phone. Cellular companies are pretty sore about security as it breeds lawsuits; so I wouldn't get my hopes up...
Why would someone steal a phone just to remove the battery? They would abuse the person paying for the service! And the "signals" all go through the providers towers and are therefore tracable for several weeks into the future.
The only real obstacle is that providers usually don't let people check cellphone ping history without a court ordered warrant.
However, they may make an exception since the privacy they are protecting is your own.