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Diamondbacks could be big players

FOX Sports KEN ROSENTHAL AND JON PAUL MOROSI
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ORLANDO, Fla.

The Diamondbacks lost 97 games last season with Justin Upton in right field and Stephen Drew at shortstop.

They might not be worse if they traded one, or even both. In fact, they might be better — at least long-term — if they received the right players in return.

New general manager Kevin Towers, aka the “gunslinger,” is not afraid to make a big move. His peers practically expect him to do so, which is why few will be surprised if the D-backs complete at least one blockbuster deal.

While Upton, 23, has a limited no-trade clause that allows him to block trades to four clubs, he “possibly could be dealt,” according to one source with knowledge of the club’s thinking.

Diamondbacks at a glance

 
Arizona Diamondbacks
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“But,” the source adds, “it would have to be big.”

Drew, 27, is perhaps less likely to be dealt; the D-Backs lack a major-league ready replacement, and a number of other shortstops are available.

Towers, though, has made it clear that he will listen on anyone at any time.

The Diamondbacks need players in multiples as they attempt to fill their many needs. Upton, owed $49.5 million through 2015, was the favored son of the previous regime, led by GM Josh Byrnes. Towers, by trading Upton, could signal a new era in dramatic fashion.

Not surprisingly, the Red Sox and Yankees checked in almost immediately on Upton, and other clubs are certain to inquire as well. Any actual trade discussions appear to be in the infancy stages. But clearly, Upton is available at the right price.

So is Drew. So is every other Diamondback.

SCUTARO ON THE MOVE?

The Red Sox believe they are a better team with shortstop Marco Scutaro than without him. Still, they are open to trading Scutaro for the right part, according to major-league sources.

Red Sox at a glance

 
Boston Red Sox
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Multiple teams are showing interest in Scutaro, sources say. Jed Lowrie would take over at shortstop if the Sox trade Scutaro, with the team presumably strengthening another area.

Middle-inning relief is a principal area of need for the Red Sox. The Cardinals are said to have only mild interest in Scutaro. But the Padres, Reds and Pirates are among the teams that are both looking for a shortstop and potentially deep enough in the bullpen to trade a reliever.

One complication: The Sox are not the only team trying to trade a shortstop. Drew, the TwinsJ.J. Hardy and the RaysJason Bartlett all are available to some degree. The free-agent market after Derek Jeter includes Juan Uribe and Orlando Cabrera.

Scutaro, 35, will earn $5 million next season. His contract includes a $6 million club option or $3 million player option for ’12, plus a $1.5 million buyout.

Lowrie, 26, batted .287/.381/.526 in 197 plate appearances last season after spending the first 3 1/2 months on the disabled list with mononucleosis. He played short and second, filling in for Scutaro and Dustin Pedroia.

Scutaro, signed as a free agent last December, appeared in 150 games while fighting through a number of ailments, batting .275/.333/.388.

TEAMS SHOULD FIND RELIEF IN MARKET

Dave Dombrowski has been a major-league general manager, with barely any interruption, since 1988. So when he offers his opinion on a trend, it’s a good idea to listen.

When asked Tuesday about the bevy of relievers available via free agency, this is what the Detroit GM said: “I think it’s one of the stronger areas in free agency. … There’s a lot of names out there.”

Along with Dombrowski’s Tigers, many contenders are in the market for bullpen help: the Red Sox, Yankees, Twins, White Sox, Rangers, Rockies and Cubs, among others.

The question is this: Who will be the first prominent late-inning reliever to go off the board?

Closer Rafael Soriano, the best available, isn’t likely to sign quickly. He’s represented by Scott Boras, who will wait for the market to establish itself and then seek the top-of-the-market contract.

But there is a healthy tier right below Soriano, including right-handers Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, Jesse Crain, Frank Francisco, Jason Frasor, Kevin Gregg, Matt Guerrier, J.J. Putz and Kerry Wood, and left-handers Scott Downs, Pedro Feliciano, Brian Fuentes and Arthur Rhodes.

Once one of them signs, the rest could begin pairing up quickly.

The Angels, who would prefer to keep Fernando Rodney in a setup role, are frequently mentioned as a suitor for Soriano. And while it has been a couple years since Mike Scioscia had the type of shutdown bullpen that characterized his earlier playoff teams, the Angels are one closer away from having a solid relief corps. Right-handers Kevin Jepsen, Jordan Walden and Michael Kohn — all 26 or younger — made an impact this year and should be even better in 2011.

THE JAYS: RUNNERS-UP FOR UGGLA

The Blue Jays showed the most early interest in Dan Uggla, but offered largely unheralded players — right-handers Josh Roenicke and Danny Farquhar plus either shortstop Ryan Goins or outfielder Darin Mastrioanni, according to major-league sources.

The Jays, a team unlikely to reach the postseason in 2011, did not want to extend any further for Uggla, a player whom they could control for only one year at a salary that could exceed $11 million in arbitration.

The Braves instead landed Uggla after a late push on Tuesday, acquiring him for infielder Omar Infante and left-hander Mike Dunn.

The Cardinals, a team that seemingly had a need for Uggla, never seriously engaged the Marlins. The Tigers were unwilling to part with significant talent. The A’s showed slight interest, but acquired outfielder David DeJesus.

SEATTLE’S (POTENTIAL) IMPACT ROOKIES

When the Seattle Mariners convene for spring training in Peoria, Ariz., much of the attention will be focused on two young players: right-handed starter Michael Pineda, 21; and second baseman Dustin Ackley, 22. The question is whether one of them can make the Opening Day roster.

Of the two, it sounds like Pineda is the stronger candidate. Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik said Tuesday that the hard thrower "should make a statement this year” and “is going to be given that chance” to win a spot on the 25-man roster.

“There’s a spot in the rotation for him,” Zduriencik said.

Ackley is a slightly different case. Barring trades, the Mariners have veterans to start at second (Chone Figgins) and third (Jose Lopez). So unless a move frees up additional playing time, Ackley could start the year at Class AAA Tacoma.

Zduriencik said it would be “a little bit of a stretch” for the Opening Day infield to include Ackley at second and Justin Smoak, 23, at first.

“Smoak’s already got his feet wet,” Zduriencik said. “Dustin played part of a season at Triple-A and had a nice Arizona Fall League. The decision with Dustin is going to be, ‘When is he ready?’ He switched positions. He’s been there for just a little over a year. That’s a lot.”

THE NEXT C.J. WILSON?

Dombrowski indicated that the Tigers aren’t in the market for rotation upgrades, preferring instead to stick with their existing starting five: Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, Phil Coke and Armando Galarraga.

Coke, a left-hander, started for most of his time in the Yankees’ farm system. As a major leaguer, he has made all but one of his 158 career appearances out of the bullpen. But before the end of the regular season, the Tigers decided to transform him into a starter again.

In October, after team officials had already made up their minds about Coke, they could watch the ideal test case pitching in the postseason: Rangers lefty Wilson.

Like Coke, Wilson is a native Californian who made the switch to starting after enjoying success as a reliever in the majors.

As a matter of fact, Tigers scout/pitching guru Dick Egan turned in similar reports on Coke and Wilson.

“Dick Egan, who always pushed us to be interested in C.J. Wilson, always said, ‘I think this guy can start,’ ” Dombrowski recalled. “When we got Phil Coke, he said, ‘I think this guy can start.’

“As we’ve grown familiar with him, he grew into that. His minor-league numbers spoke for themselves. He’s a very durable, strong guy. Even though he’s a little stocky, he’s in good shape. He works hard. They say he can run forever. We think he can handle it. He’s got three good pitches, too.”

FAST-ACTING AGENTS

Just as teams employ unique negotiating styles, so do agents.

Scott Boras displays a certain kind of confidence by frequently prolonging talks. Seth and Sam Levinson are confident in a different way -- they prefer to strike quickly, not worrying about deals that might come later.

The Levinsons’ agency, Aces, already has completed three multi-year deals this off-season:

• Third baseman Brandon Inge: Two years, $11.5 million with the Tigers before he became a free agent.

• Shortstop Jhonny Peralta: Two years, $11.25 million with the Tigers in free agency.

• Catcher John Buck: Three years, $18 million with the Marlins in free agency, pending a physical.

A year ago, Aces also landed free-agent contracts before the winter meetings for infielder Placido Polanco (three years, $18 million with the Phillies) and infielder Chone Figgins (four years, $36 million with the Mariners).

AROUND THE HORN

• White Sox general manager Kenny Williams is not known as one of the more patient executives in the game. But on Tuesday, he didn’t sound like a man eager to make moves. “We may be exactly where we are (now) after the winter meetings,” he said.

Erick Aybar’s OPS took a 140-point tumble from 2009 to 2010, but Angels GM Tony Reagins suggested that the team remains content with him as the everyday shortstop. “I would say it’s highly unlikely that he’s anywhere but playing shortstop for us,” Reagins said.

The greater question relates to the other position on the left side of the Angels’ infield. Reagins said Alberto Callaspo, Maicer Izturis and Brandon Wood are “penciled in” at third base. But the Angels will check around for upgrades between now and Opening Day.

• Infielder Esteban German, who appeared in 13 games for the Texas Rangers during the regular season, has rejoined the American League champs on a minor-league deal.

Tagged: Red Sox, Angels, Tigers, Twins, Yankees, Mariners, Rangers, Blue Jays, Braves, Marlins, Diamondbacks, Rays, Brandon Inge, Scott Downs, Marco Scutaro, Chone Figgins, Stephen Drew, C.J. Wilson, Justin Verlander, Dustin Pedroia, Dan Uggla, Brandon Wood, Justin Upton, Justin Smoak, Phil Coke, Kevin Jepsen

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