PHOENIX — The Diamondbacks will be active at the winter meetings; that much is certain. A quick glance at general manager Kevin Towers’ resume is convincing in itself. The meetings are Towers’ playground.
At the same time, a blockbuster trade involving Justin Upton is not on the table now and would only happen if one of the big-money teams — Texas still appears to be the most logical trading partner — comes off its current offer in order to acquire a big bat, according to a source with knowledge of the D-backs’ situation.
“It’s possible. It depends how desperate teams get,” the source said of an Upton deal.
Barring that, expect the D-backs to return from the meetings in Nashville., Tenn., with Upton in the middle of the order and:
• a role player with some pop in his bat to back up both first base and third base, likely a left-handed hitter since both Paul Goldschmidt and Chris Johnson are right-handed, and probably a free agent.
• another left-hander to join newcomer Matt Reynolds in the bullpen, probably through a trade.
• a starting pitcher for the middle of the rotation. A No. 1 starter almost certainly would cost Upton, and there are few of those on the market. The D-backs have a lot of good young pitchers, though, and could swap two for a Trevor Cahill type to a team seeking salary relief.
• possible additions at third base or shortstop.
“We’ve targeted a handful of teams that may be potential trade partners,” Towers said. “We’d like to improve our bench, and we’ll look at free agents more than trades for that.”
At least 10 teams have expressed interest in Upton, but after initial conversations, the D-backs have told most that there is no fit. They appear to want a young major league (or major league-ready) shortstop/third baseman and a top-of-the-rotation starter.
Atlanta shortstop Andrelton Simmons, one potential target, has not been available, and the Braves eventually turned to the elder Upton outfielder, Tampa Bay free agent B.J., who signed a five-year, $75 million deal Thursday. Texas has not made top prospect Jurickson Profar available, and Tampa Bay does not have a shortstop the D-backs appear to be wild about, although the Rays do have an excess of starting pitching. AL Cy Young winner David Price is said not to be on the market even though he could make about $9 million in arbitration this season and has one more year of arbitration remaining. Jeremy Hellickson could make sense in a package for the D-backs, but probably not at a cost of Upton.
Any possible Upton deal also would require some sell within the organization. Manager Kirk Gibson is a strong supporter of Upton even though the two had their differences when Gibson put a struggling Upton on the bench for a few days in June. Managing partner Ken Kendrick also is a big Upton booster.
Although the D-backs would save $38.5 million on the final three years of Upton’s contract, money does not appear to be a large determinant regarding moves they might make in Nashville or after. The D-backs went over budget to spend about $80 million on player salaries last season, and they have a soft target of about $85 million for payroll this season, in part after drawing their biggest attendance figure in four years in 2012. The D-backs have about $70 million committed now, a figure that includes approximations on their six arbitration-eligible players, a group that includes Johnson, Matt Albers, Ian Kennedy, Gerardo Parra, Cliff Pennington and Brad Ziegler.
The D-backs appear to have an excess of outfielders even after trading Chris Young to Oakland in the three-way deal that brought Heath Bell from Miami on Nov. 20. As with Upton, both Parra and Jason Kubel have been mentioned in trade speculation. Adam Eaton and A.J. Pollock are the others in the crowded field. Eaton and Pollock have options remaining.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a priority,” Towers said of dealing an outfielder. “We have four really good ones and one (Pollock) that is ready to play as well. It would be nice to find a bench player at first and third, hopefully a left-handed bat, who could give us coverage when Goldy or Chris need a day off.”
The free-agent market for combo first and third baseman appears relatively thin. Eric Chavez, principally a third baseman, played a smattering of first base with the Yankees the last two seasons. He had 16 homers in 278 at-bats last season. The D-backs have checked in with the agent for Aubrey Huff, who spent most of the last three seasons at first base for San Francisco. He has played 360 career games at third, but none since leaving Baltimore in 2008.
Left-hander Clayton Richard and right-handers Justin Masterson and Ricky Nolasco are among the small-market starting pitchers who are first-time arbitration eligible this winter and in line for a big raise, although the Padres are not expected to move Richard.
NOTES: The D-backs released right-hander Brad Bergesen, who cleared waivers Friday. Among their arbitration eligible players, only catcher Wil Nieves was not offered a contract, making him a free agent. The D-backs talked to Nieves about a possible return as last season ended, and they are free to negotiate with him desepite the non-tender. Miguel Montero is the only catcher on the 40-man roster. Konrad Schmidt was claimed off waivers by Texas last month. The D-backs’ 40-man roster is frozen a 35 for the Rule 5 draft on Thursday, the last item of business at the winter meetings. The D-backs have taken a player in the Rule 5 draft in each of Towers’ two seasons — left-hander Joe Paterson in 2010 and right-hander Brett Lorin in 2011 — and are likely to be active in that market. A player claimed in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft must make the claiming team’s 25-man roster in 2013 or be offered back to his previous team at half the $50,000 climbing price.