Does Justin Upton Removing Yankees from No-Trade List Signal 2013 Blockbuster?

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Does Justin Upton Removing Yankees from No-Trade List Signal 2013 Blockbuster?
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

OK, so we know that the Arizona Diamondbacks failed to trade star right fielder Justin Upton to the Seattle Mariners. Maybe he'll end up on the New York Yankees instead.

But he won't. 

Most likely not, anyway. I'm certain enough to bet my beard somebody else's beard on it.

Upton going to New York is at least possible because, according to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com and Baseball America, the Yankees are not on Upton's no-trade list. That's certainly relevant now, as Upton didn't get traded to the Mariners because he used his limited no-trade clause to nix the deal, as FoxSports.com first reported.

Back in July, FoxSports.com reported that the Yankees were on Upton's no-trade list at the time. He removed them this winter, which reveals something about his and his agent's line of reasoning.

You might be thinking that Upton left the Yankees off his new no-trade list because he doesn't want anything to get in the way of him going there. A more simple explanation would be that the Yankees are a traditionally great team, so why would Upton ever not want to join their midst?

These limited no-trade clauses aren't that simple, as FanGraphs' David Cameron outlined in a piece for U.S.S. Mariner:

These lists can usually be changed each off-season, and they generally are adjusted for leverage purposes. Agents stay on top of the rumor mill, and they figure out where the most likely destinations are for their client if he is going to be traded, then choose those organizations as the teams to block, giving them the most amount of leverage possible.

If this is the process used by Upton and his agent, Larry Reynolds, then they didn't deem the Yankees a likely destination based on what they were hearing. So instead of re-using a spot for them, they rearranged Upton's no-trade list to include the Mariners, the Toronto Blue Jays, the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs.

These four clubs were understandable picks. The Mariners and the Red Sox have two of the best farm systems in baseball, and both had holes to fill in their lineups this winter. The Blue Jays have one of the best parks in the majors for righty power hitters, and they had one of the best farm systems in baseball before all their trades. The Cubs' farm system is coming along, and they could have been interested in Upton as a long-term solution for their outfield.

These clubs were tabbed because they clearly had the assets to do business with Arizona, and because they stood out as teams that could be willing to sweeten the deal for Upton himself.

Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News wrote in November that the Yankees could explore a trade for Upton, but noted that it was unlikely because the Yankees didn't fit so well as a trade partner for the Diamondbacks. Their farm system isn't weak, but it's perilously short of the kind of upper-level prospects the D-Backs are going to require to move Upton.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
As inconsistent as he is, Upton's talent level is through the roof.

Reading between the lines, I'm guessing that Upton and Reynolds noticed that before Feinsand did. They knew what the Yankees had, and they presumably had an idea of what Arizona GM Kevin Towers was (and still is) looking to get for Upton in a trade.

The Yankees look like even less of a match for Upton now after the failed deal with the Mariners. It would have been a huge deal for Arizona, as Scott Miller of CBSSports.com reported that the D-Backs would have gotten right-hander Taijuan Walker—one of MLB's best prospects—shortstop Nick Franklin, and relievers Charlie Furbush and Stephen Pryor.

The D-Backs surely aren't done trying to trade Upton, but trading him could prove to be even more difficult after having seen that package of players pass them by. To do a deal, somebody's going to have to either match that offer, or the D-Backs will have to lower their asking price.

The Yankees only stand a chance of acquiring Upton if the D-Backs lower their asking price, as there's no way in heck they can match the offer the Mariners just made. Given Arizona's rumored asking price, it was just about perfect.

According to Nick Piecoro of USA Today, the D-Backs were said to be looking for a shortstop, a third baseman or a frontline starting pitcher for Upton in a deal at the GM meetings in November. The Mariners' offer satisfied two of those demands.

The Yankees don't have the pieces to satisfy any of them. They don't have a young shortstop with star potential, nor do they have a major league-ready third baseman. Manny Banuelos or Dellin Betances would have piqued Arizona's interest last year, but not this year.

All the Yankees really have to offer are young outfielders, and that's an issue for two reasons. One is that the Yankees' top young outfielders are too young, and the other is that the Diamondbacks have enough outfielders. Even if they deal Upton, they'll still have a surplus.

The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports
Steely-eyed Brian Cashman finds your high asking prices to be disturbing.

Maybe there's a scenario that involves Brian Cashman convincing Towers to consider a package consisting of low-level talent and expendable major leaguers (Ivan Nova, for example). Towers would have to disregard his demands for Upton to consider it, but let's just say he's able to bring himself to do that.

Even if this were to happen, the deal would have one final hurdle to negotiate. If word were to get out that Towers was considering the Yankees' offer, would another team come along at the last minute with a better offer?

Because Upton is the prize, that would be a legit possibility. We're not talking about Giancarlo Stanton, but Upton certainly has the youth and the talent to inspire front offices to be aggressive.

Case in point: the Mariners. The offer they made for Upton was aggressive almost to the point of being reckless, as they were prepared to give up two of their best prospects and two prominent members of their bullpen. Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik was basically willing to put his job on the line.

And he may not be done yet. It's possible that Upton will still be traded to Seattle for the package of players that was discussed, but Upton has to be convinced that there's something in it for him too.

Cameron pondered in his piece that a contract extension could get the job done. Another possibility would be making Upton's deal shorter, perhaps by turning his guaranteed year in 2015 into an option year so he can hit free agency earlier.

This is another scenario that could block the Yankees from acquiring Upton. Towers, still salivating over Seattle's offer, could tell Zduriencik that he has another buyer on the line, and that could inspire Zduriencik to ask Upton what it would take to bring him to Seattle.

The Yankees' best chance of acquiring Upton will come later if the D-Backs fail to find a taker for him this winter. If Upton struggles again in 2013, his trade value will plummet to a point where what the Yankees have to offer would be more in line with what the D-Backs would have leverage to demand.

But why would the Yankees deal then knowing that they'd still be paying a significant price for a player who's clearly not what he's cracked up to be?

They wouldn't deal. And for now, they can't deal.

I can't say for sure how serious the Yankees' interest in Upton is, but my best guess is that Cashman and his underlings aren't losing sleep at night conjuring ways to acquire him. 

There are more practical scenarios for them to spend their energy on. For the time being, Upton is too far beyond their reach.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. Salary and payroll information courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.

 

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