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January 11, 2013

Rumor Roundup

Friday, January 11

by Daniel Rathman

The Justin Upton trade saga hardly needed another plot twist, but it got one anyway on Thursday afternoon. Today’s Roundup begins with a look at the latest chapter and where the story might go from here.

Upton reportedly blocked a trade to the Mariners
FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal had it first: The Diamondbacks, at long last, decided to pull the trigger on an offer for their right fielder, but the right fielder, armed with a partial no-trade clause and picky about his destination, put the kibosh on the barter. Following the freshest footprints, here is what we now know:

As ESPN’s Buster Olney reported on Jan. 3, D’backs general manager Kevin Towers is “very much open again” to trading Upton—so open, in fact, that after finding it “hard to pull the trigger” a month ago, he has now proven himself willing to do his part. Olney also mentioned in that tweet that the “specific demands have changed,” and the latest developments confirm this secondary factor. Once intent on landing a controllable, left-side infielder for Upton—such as Elvis Andrus, Jurickson Profar, or Andrelton Simmons—Towers is now equally interested in stockpiling young pitching. The December trade that brought shortstop prospect Didi Gregorius from Cincinnati to Arizona, via Cleveland, for promising right-hander Trevor Bauer likely contributed to the shift in Towers’ demands.

We know all of this, because CBS Sports’ insiders Jon Heyman and Scott Miller were gradually able to piece together Seattle’s four-player package. Miller first reported that two relievers, lefty Charlie Furbush and righty Stephen Pryor, made up half of the lot, and that infielder Nick Franklin—the fourth-ranked prospect in Seattle’s farm system, according to Jason Parks and our minor-league team—would also have been shipped to the desert. Heyman then discovered that the final piece, identified by Miller as one of Seattle’s top three pitching prospects, would have been the most highly-regarded one, right-hander Taijuan Walker.  

Alas, it was not to be, since the Mariners were one of the four teams to which Upton could reject a deal. Olney, who heard last week that there was a “good potential trade match” between Arizona and Seattle, noted that clearing the no-trade hurdle would be difficult, and there are indications that Upton and his agent, Larry Reynolds, intentionally crafted the list in a way that would limit Towers’ market. Upton’s contract, a six-year, $51.25 million extension that he signed in March of 2010, enables him to change the four teams every year, and he has taken advantage of that power at every turn.

When Upton inked the extension, the blacklisted quartet consisted of Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, and Oakland, and Ben Lindbergh mentioned the dynamic nature of the list as one of the reasons for Upton’s perennial spotlight on the trade-rumor stage. By last year’s trade deadline, the list had evolved to include the Cubs, Yankees, and Red Sox, who replaced the Tigers, Royals, and A’s.  Now, the Indians and Yankees have been spared, with the Blue Jays and Mariners taking their places.

Boston, Chicago, Seattle, and Toronto have all been rumored as possible landing spots for Upton during the past two months, so there are two plausible motives for their presence on the list. One is that Upton simply does not want to go to those teams, but given that none of the four was on his initial list, that seems unlikely. More intriguing is the notion that Upton is trying to direct Towers toward a deal with a particular team—and ESPN’s Jason Churchill has been told that the desired destination is Atlanta, where B.J. Upton, who is also represented by Reynolds, signed on Nov. 28.

Unfortunately, as MLB.com’s Mark Bowman tweeted after the reports of the failed deal leaked, if the inclusion of Simmons is critical, then Upton almost certainly will not be joining the Braves. General manager Frank Wren has some of his own promising young pitchers to dangle, such as Julio Teheran or Randall Delgado, but Walker’s stock is higher, and Wren lacks a Franklin-like infielder to pad the package. A deal with Atlanta should not be ruled out, but Towers would need to make further concessions, and he is unlikely to do so unless Upton and the Diamondbacks have reached the point of no return.

The Mariners, led by Jack Zduriencik—who is entering his fifth season at the helm and feeling pressure to bring in a big-ticket bat—are Upton’s most desperate suitor, but also his least wanted. The Braves, if Churchill’s sources are correct, are the most wanted, but after adding Upton, they might also be the least desperate. The Rangers, who have never found their way onto Upton’s no-trade list but are reluctant to part with a young infielder, fit somewhere in between. For all of Thursday’s developments, the state of the saga can be summed up with the same five words that described it before Rosenthal’s revelation: something has got to give.

Brian Wilson nearly ready to throw off a mound
The Giants fared well in the absence of their former closer last year, but San Francisco Chronicle beat writer Hank Schulman reports that the team is keeping close tabs on his rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery. Wilson underwent the procedure (his second) on April 19, so he is now almost nine months into the rehab process, with just a over a month remaining before pitchers report to spring training. Whether he will do so with the Giants in Scottsdale or with another team is currently anyone’s guess.

Wilson took home $8.5 million in 2012—the second year of a two-year, $15 million extension that bought out his first two years of arbitration eligibility—and the Giants, unwilling to guarantee roughly that amount for the 2013 season without a clearer indication of the 30-year-old’s health, non-tendered him on Nov. 30. At the time, the move seemingly burned all bridges between the Giants and Wilson, who believed that his contributions to the 2010 championship run merited more patience with his recovery. But it’s worth noting that, back then, Schulman also heard from Wilson’s camp that “he will receive numerous big-league contract offers at more than what the Giants [are] willing to pay.”

CBS Sports’ Scott Miller tweeted on Dec. 28 that Wilson had pared a list that initially included 9-10 teams down to five, but that he was not yet ready to put pen to paper. Two weeks later, the terms that those teams were offering and the identities of the five finalists remain unclear. Wilson’s cooperation with the Giants on his rehab could be an indication that time has mended his relationship with his former employer, but as Schulman pointed out in his most recent post, it is standard practice for free agents coming off of a season-ending injury.

Schulman believes that Wilson is unlikely to sign in the near future, because there are multiple reasons for him to wait. For one thing, once he is ready to ramp up his mound work, Wilson could allay the concerns that are depressing his offers by performing well in an audition. For another, with Rafael Soriano—a compensated free agent whose draft-pick requirement may be as much of an albatross as Wilson’s medicals—representing his only seasoned competitor on the free-agent market, Wilson might become the beneficiary of a spring-training injury to a team’s closer.

The Giants, though, appear content to move on. Sergio Romo is expected to return as manager Bruce Bochy’s primary choice in the ninth inning, and his top set-up men, Jeremy Affeldt and Santiago Casilla, have both been locked up through at least the 2015 season. Bay Area Stats Guy reported on Thursday that the Giants are nearing an agreement with right-hander Brandon Lyon, who spent the 2012 season with the Astros and Blue Jays. If the deal is finalized, then San Francisco’s bullpen would essentially be complete, giving general manager Brian Sabean all of the leverage in negotiations with Lozano.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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