Yankees likely to pass on Upton

The New York Yankees are likely going to pass on Justin Upton, which is really strange.

On Jan. 13, 2012, the Yankees stunned the baseball industry by signing Hiroki Kuroda and acquiring Michael Pineda from Seattle.

On Jan. 13, 2013, the Yankees could send a similar thunderbolt with a trade for Arizona outfielder Justin Upton.

There’s only one problem: They seem strangely reluctant to do so.

The Yankees’ newfound mantra of fiscal responsibility – a $189 million payroll in 2014, not a penny more – has stifled a number of potential moves this winter, including their willingness to meet the Diamondbacks’ price for the two-time All-Star.

The Yankees indeed want to add a right-handed hitter but haven’t picked up their pursuit of Upton in the days since he was nearly dealt to Seattle, according to major-league sources. The Diamondbacks and Mariners had a deal in place last week, but Upton rejected the move to Seattle by using his limited no-trade clause.

Upton is eminently available on the trade market despite finishing fourth in the National League Most Valuable Player voting in 2011. His relationship with the organization seemed to sour last year, and the Diamondbacks have discussed trades with multiple teams throughout the offseason.

Now that Seattle has been eliminated as a suitor – for now, at least – the Atlanta Braves and Texas Rangers are seen as Upton’s most likely destinations. Meanwhile, the Yankees apparently don’t have the appetite for the three years and $38.5 million left on Upton’s contract – a somewhat startling development for what has been baseball’s richest franchise.

While the Yankees have a full complement of starting outfielders – Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Ichiro Suzuki – they could clear a spot for Upton by trading Granderson, who will become a free agent after the 2013 season. (Granderson will earn $13 million this year, compared to $9.75 million for Upton.)

The Mariners, rebuffed by trade targets and big free agents all offseason, might jump at the chance to get Granderson – even if it’s only for one year. Or they could request a window to negotiate a contract extension as a condition of any deal for Granderson, as happened with R.A. Dickey and the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Yankees could ask for a better prospect package – perhaps comparable to the one Seattle was prepared to surrender for Upton – if Granderson agreed to an extension in Seattle. In fact, the Yankees could ask for some of the same Mariners prospects that would have gone to Arizona for Upton. And then the Yankees could repackage that talent – maybe adding another player of their own, if necessary – to bring Upton to the Bronx. (Upton’s no-trade clause reportedly wouldn’t allow him to block a deal to the Yankees.)

As logical as that may sound, it isn’t likely to happen as long as the Yankees insist on maintaining payroll flexibility for the coming crunch of 2014. That’s why four of their free-agent signings – Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Kevin Youkilis and Mariano Rivera – were for one year only.

So it seems likely that their right-handed outfield bat will be a reasonably-priced, short-term acquisition such as free agent Scott Hairston, rather than the more impactful Upton.

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