D-backs listening, but unlikely to bite, on Upton

PHOENIX – So Justin Upton is available.

Put that in the same file as the sun rises daily.

Bulletin: Kevin Towers has been known to make a trade. Check the resume. Towers’ wife and his three bulldogs are safe, but everything else is negotiable.

That being said, Upton is almost certainly going nowhere but into his usual No. 3 spot in the batting order when the second half of the Diamondbacks’ season opens this weekend.

Upton’s availability, first reported by FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal, has been the subject of considerable buzz at the All-Star Game in Kansas City, but he won’t come cheaply. The D-backs have told suitors that it will take major league-ready players at several positions – shortstop and third base are the areas of greatest need – to acquire Upton and the three years at a manageable $34.5 million remaining on his contract.

Baltimore, which has a top shortstop prospect in Manny Machado?

Not a fit.

Pittsburgh, which hopes to break a 19-year playoff drought?

Look elsewhere, me hearties.

“There is nobody close” to hitting the asking price for Upton, a source with knowledge of the D-backs’ thinking said before the All-Star Game on Tuesday.

So that settles that.

The D-backs (42-43) will ride with Upton as they look to make up the four games necessary in both the division and wild-card race to return to the playoffs for the second consecutive season, which would be a first since 2001-02.

If the D-backs choose to do anything before the July 31 nonwaiver trading deadline, shortstop Stephen Drew appears to be the more likely candidate to go, both because of his contract situation and Willie Bloomquist’s current form.

Drew has a $10 million mutual option for 2013 that the D-backs appear certain to decline, which would make him a free agent. Even if the D-backs wanted to re-sign Drew at a lesser price, it would be unlike agent Scott Boras to pass up the opportunity to test the market. He did it with Stephen’s brother, J.D., and he has done it with others. Bloomquist has been a rock while filling in for Drew for the last 11 ½ months.

If the D-backs choose to deal from their outfield depth, it is more likely that a player such as Chris Young would be traded, although his value is low now because of the aftereffects of a right shoulder injury.

There was a time that Joe Saunders would have been expendable, but that was before Daniel Hudson suffered the elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. Saunders is quality rotation depth now.

But back to Upton.

Why would the D-backs even consider trading a player who does not turn 25 until Aug. 25, finished fourth in the National League MVP voting in a career year in 2011 and has had two 20-20 seasons in the last three?

For one, they have holes to fill on the left side of the infield moving forward. If trading Upton gives them a starting third baseman and/or a starting shortstop for the next six years or so, it would make a lot of sense.

For another, they would be dealing from a position of strength. Jason Kubel, Young and Gerardo Parra are bonafide starters, and the D-backs control all three for at least two more years if they choose to exercise 2014 options on Kubel and Young. Parra has three years of arbitration eligibility remaining.

There also are reinforcements in the farm system. A.J. Pollock played well after an early adjustment period in his first month in the majors this year, and Adam Eaton is a rising star at Class AAA Reno. Both can play center field, and Eaton has a right fielder’s arm. If Eaton’s minor league numbers translate, he would be the prototype leadoff hitter the D-backs have really never had, a guy who can get on base and steal bases ahead of the middle of the order.

None of those players has had the year Upton had in 2011, when he had 39 doubles, 31 home runs, 21 stolen bases and 88 RBIs in his first full season after being limited by a right shoulder injury the year before.

Any of them could have the year Upton is having now – 12 doubles, seven homers, 37 RBIs at the midway point.

Identifying the real Upton is crux of the matter. He has hit age-group marks in his early years that put him in the class of Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Orlando Cepeda, Mike Schmidt and Alex Rodriguez.

Fernando Tatis had similar numbers, too.

Upton is not perfect. He is athletic enough to cover a lot of ground, but he is not an instinctive defender, although he is getting better. He did not react well when manager Kirk Gibson benched him for three games in early June, failing to understand that it was in the team’s best interest.

The first time the D-backs made it known they were listening to offers on Upton, in Towers’ first months on the job in the winter of 2010, Boston and Seattle made serious runs. The Red Sox’s package included Jacoby Ellsbury and Daniel Bard, but it was not enough to pry Upton away.

That was a deal best left on the table, at least on the D-backs’ end.

So are the ones they have been offered so far this time.

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