Teams cannot be trusted when they say they are “out” on certain players, but the Rangers are fairly insistent that they will not trade one of their two young shortstops, Elvis Andrus or Jurickson Profar, for Diamondbacks right fielder Justin Upton.
If that is indeed the case — and if the Rangers cannot find some other way to structure a deal for Upton — then the Rays might emerge as the front-runner, according to rival executives.
The Rays could satisfy the Diamondbacks’ desire to add a top-of-the-rotation starter by offering right-hander James Shields or right-hander Jeremy Hellickson. They also could fill the D-backs’ need for a shortstop by offering a top prospect, Hak-Ju Lee.
One exec said that Shields and Lee actually would be too much to give for Upton, indicating that the D-backs would need to part with additional talent. Where it all goes, no one knows for sure. Some rival execs still aren’t convinced the Diamondbacks will even trade Upton, but others believe he’s a goner.
The Rays, though, are now free to mount a serious pursuit of Upton if they choose to go in that direction. They could not have afforded both Justin and his older brother, B.J., but B.J. rejected the team’s qualifying offer on Friday.
LOOK OUT FOR THE DODGERS!
It’s amazing how teams now fear the Dodgers the way they once feared the Yankees. Executives pursuing certain free agents ask reporters if the Dodgers are interested in those players. If the answer is yes, the execs know they pretty much have no chance to be the high bidder.
Case in point: Kevin Youkilis.
The White Sox and Phillies are interested in Youkilis, according to major league sources. The Indians and Cubs also are reported to be possibilities. But an official from one of those clubs expressed concern that the Dodgers might want Youk — and as it turns out, they are indeed considering signing him.
Youkilis, 33, would fit the Dodgers only under certain circumstances: If Hanley Ramirez ends up at shortstop and not third, if third baseman Luis Cruz becomes more of a super-utilityman, or if the Dodgers are resigned to sending Dee Gordon back to Triple A, perhaps for an entire season.
The Dodgers also have Nick Punto and Jerry Hairston Jr. as versatile utility types, and Juan Uribe — ahem — is under contract for one more season. Youk, then, probably doesn’t fit — unless the Dodgers view him as their best possibility at third and as a right-handed hitting option at first.
They’re thinking about it. That alone is cause for rival clubs to shudder.
THE NATIONALS’ FINANCIAL EDGE
On Thursday night, the GMs dined in luxury at the home of Nationals owner Ted Lerner in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
The artwork, the reflecting pools — let’s just say the GMs were impressed.
“After seeing that place,” one GM said, “I think they’re getting both (Josh) Hamilton and (Zack) Greinke.”
The Nationals are still engaged in a dispute with the Orioles over the television rights fee that they receive from the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. Both clubs own the network, but the Orioles’ stake is nearly 90 percent.
Nats GM Mike Rizzo said the ongoing dispute will not limit the team’s ability to spend this offseason. The Nats received $29 million from MASN in 2011; they want number to increase to more than $100 million.
DIFFERENT VIEWS OF CLOSERS
The Reds make no secret of their desire to land a closer — they want to add one so that they can move Aroldis Chapman to the rotation, and are considering free agents such as Jonathon Broxton, Joakim Soria and Ryan Madson.
The Angels, under GM Jerry Dipoto, take almost a completely different view — one shared by many statistical analysts, who espouse the idea that virtually any reliever can close.
Dipoto points to the top 15 saves leaders last season, saying that teams did not expect many of the pitchers on that list to end up as their closers.
The examples include the Orioles’ Jim Johnson, Rays’ Fernando Rodney and White Sox’s Addison Reed; Mariners’ Tom Wilhelmsen, Red Sox’s Alfredo Aceves and Blue Jays’ Casey Janssen — and don’t forget the Angels’ own Ernesto Frieri.
The Angels are committed to Frieri, Scott Downs, Kevin Jepsen and Jordan Walden for four of their seven bullpen spots next season. Dipoto is not concerned with finding a pure closer, though he could trade for the Indians’ Chris Perez or sign Japanese free-agent Kyuji Fujikawa.
The way Dipoto sees it, he’ll acquire the best bullpen arms he can find, and the Angels will figure out the rest.
WAIT CONTINUES FOR CUBS
The Cubs, as everyone knows, have not won the World Series since 1908. But the question now is more basic: How long will it take for the front office to build another contender?
Pretty long, it appears.
The Cubs’ two best players, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Starlin Castro, will play next season at 23, several years away from their primes.
The team’s top prospects — shortstop Javier Baez and outfielders Jorge Soler and Albert Almora — are years away from the majors.
And the pitching, well, it still has a long way to go.
The Cubs currently are mulling over free-agent starters, seeking the same types of bargains that they found last offseason with outfielder David DeJesus, who signed a two-year, $10 million deal. (Think Brandon McCarthy, Shaun Marcum, etc.)
The team could become more aggressive in the open market next offseason, seeking to put future pieces in place. But the top projected free agents — New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, Boston Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, et al — will draw interest from more competitive clubs.
The new restrictions on amateur spending wrecked Theo Epstein’s plan to build through the draft. As Epstein learned in Boston, free agency isn’t always the answer.
AROUND THE HORN
• One rival executive predicts that free-agent right-hander Dan Haren will sign with the Padres. Staying on the West Coast is important to Haren, the exec says. Padres GM Josh Byrnes traded for Haren during his previous tenure with the D-backs.
• A Red Sox official says of free-agent first baseman Adam LaRoche: “Like him. Don’t love him.” LaRoche, a free agent, spent nine days with the Sox in 2009.
• Free-agent relievers Soria and Madson are both coming off Tommy John surgery. Soria will not be ready at the start of the season, but Madson will be set to return. If the Reds sign Soria, they would simply piece together the ninth inning for as long as necessary.
• The White Sox, if they re-sign Youkilis, could play him at first as well at third in an effort to keep him healthy. Youkilis was bothered by a sore right knee after joining the team on July 31, essentially playing on one leg.