Will the D-Backs finally trade Justin Upton?
But general manager Kevin Towers keeps dangling Upton out there like a little fish, waiting to be gobbled up by the big predators of the sea. Maybe this will finally be the week in which he's dealt to another team that actually wants him.
Most of the headlines at the 2012 MLB winter meetings have involved Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton. That's understandable, since they're the top free agents available this offseason.
However, Upton might be the No. 1 trade target in Nashville this week—that is, among position players, as R.A. Dickey is getting plenty of attention as well. Upton could be especially appealing to any team that doesn't want to meet Hamilton's asking price.
The Rangers would appear to be the favorites to land Upton, as they have the most resources in terms of prospects and money. They are also the closest to championship contention.
For the Indians and Mariners, however, Upton could be a key building block, a young power hitter and MVP-caliber talent to build a team around.
Which of these clubs stands the best chance of getting Upton either during the winter meetings or later in the offseason?
Texas Rangers: 60 Percent
Later in the day on Tuesday (Dec. 4), Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal tweeted that the Rangers and Josh Hamilton might be working toward an agreement on a four-year contract.
However, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman later reported that talks were "on hold" between the two sides, perhaps because the Rangers are focused on trying to win the free-agent bidding for pitcher Zack Greinke.
Signing both Hamilton and Greinke—the top two free agents available—isn't going to happen, so this is likely an either/or proposition for the Rangers.
Texas is obviously making Greinke a priority, probably because the market for him is more competitive. Hamilton doesn't appear to be going anywhere right now.
If the Rangers do win the auction for Greinke, he'll be their big free-agent signing of the offseason. But the outfield will have a major hole in it, and that's where Upton comes in. According to Heyman, Texas has been "working hard" on trying to get Upton, which appears to make it the favorite.
The Rangers certainly have something the D-Backs desperately want in shortstops Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar.
However, general manager Jon Daniels seems reluctant to give up either player. Perhaps that's why we've seen rumors of a three-team deal, possibly involving Cleveland Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera.
But maybe Daniels has finally relented, realizing he'll have to give up one of his prized shortstops to get a player of Upton's caliber.
Cleveland Indians: 30 Percent
Arizona GM Kevin Towers told Fox Sports Arizona's Jack Magruder that he prefers to deal with one team directly rather than get involved in transactions with multiple teams.
If that's the case, then why not cut out all the middlemen and try to set up a trade with the Indians rather than get other clubs like the Rangers, Tampa Bay Rays and Kansas City Royals involved (as multiple reports, including this one from ESPN's Buster Olney, suggest)?
The Indians have the shortstop the D-Backs covet with Asdrubal Cabrera. The Tribe also has a crying need for a corner outfielder, as evidenced by its pursuit of Shane Victorino.
Cleveland's offer of $44 million to Victorino even exceeds what it would owe Upton, who's set to be paid $38.5 million over the final three years of his contract. Of course, Victorino would have only cost the Indians money rather than trading a key player as well.
Cabrera isn't as good defensively as the Rangers' pair of shortstops, but he would likely provide more offense. Playing his home games at Chase Field rather than Progressive Field could return Cabrera to the 25-homer, 90-RBI form he had in 2011.
The Indians and D-Backs have also discussed a trade involving Cabrera and pitcher Trevor Bauer, according to MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince.
It seems like Arizona would have to give up more than Bauer to get Cabrera, but with the shortstop being owed $16.5 million through 2014, perhaps Cleveland would take the salary relief. Maybe this is where Upton comes in, since the two teams are already discussing trades.
Seattle Mariners: 10 Percent
The Mariners seem like a long shot to acquire Upton, but their chances of getting a power hitter appear to be slim under any circumstances.
Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reported that the Mariners were among the teams doing a background check on Upton to see if he would be a good fit on their roster.
Do the Mariners have the shortstop the D-Backs are seeking? Brendan Ryan would likely be available and would be a defensive upgrade for the Arizona infield, but he's also a player that didn't even bat .200 last season and isn't someone to build a trade package around.
Nick Franklin is Seattle's top shortstop prospect and he ended this season in Triple-A Tacoma. Is he ready for the major leagues? Arizona likely wants a shortstop who can start games for the team now.
The Mariners have pitching to offer, however. Perhaps Taijuan Walker or Danny Hultzen would be involved in an Upton deal, especially if the D-Backs ended up trading Bauer or Tyler Skaggs to the Indians in a trade for Cabrera.
Seattle yearns for a slugger that can launch some baseballs over Safeco Field's newly moved-in outfield fences—the Mariners signed Jason Bay on Wednesday, as reported by CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, but does he really count? The Mariners have taken shots at power hitters like Hamilton and Mike Napoli in free agency, but it looks like GM Jack Zduriencik will have to get a big bat via trade.
However, it doesn't appear that the Mariners really have what the D-Backs are looking for in a deal. Yet again, the M's will probably be the bridesmaid.
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