NASHVILLE — The longer the winter meetings last, the better Justin Upton’s contract looks. That is not to say that Upton will not be moved by the Diamondbacks, either here or shortly thereafter. The D-backs had trade discussions with Cincinnati and Cleveland about Upton on Tuesday after meeting previously with Seattle and Texas, without a fit being found.
The target in Cleveland is Asdrubal Cabrera; with Texas, it’s elite prospect Jurickson Profar or Elvis Andrus.
But at $39 million over the next three years, Upton is looking more and more a bargain as more and more free-agent outfielders come off the board. San Francisco signed Angel Pagan to a four-year, $40 million deal on Monday, and Boston agreed to a three-year $39 million deal with Shane Victorino on Tuesday.
“Crazy numbers out there, aren’t there?” D-backs general manager Kevin Towers said in his daily briefing with reporters. “I can say I’ve seen a couple of deals that were decent deals. Most are ‘whoo.’ That makes it tough.”
The D-backs still are targeting a top-of-the-rotation starter and an elite, controllable shortstop in any package for Upton, and because of that unlikely scenario, they might be inclined instead to part with Jason Kubel. The Mariners also have talked to the D-backs about Kubel, although Kubel’s price is most likely to include more of a middle-of-the-rotation starter.
“I do not see Kubel and Upton both being moved,” Towers said. “And neither of them may be moved. The only way we would discuss Justin or Kubel is addressing another area of need. If we’re going to do something, it is going to be our team is going to get better. We are not looking to add prospects to our system. We’re not rebuilding. Any deal we do is focused on the 2013 club being better.”
The D-backs also have considered multiple-team deals, and ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that a four-team deal involving Upton to Cleveland with Cabrera coming to Arizona recently fell apart. Towers said Tuesday he thought he had a deal done Sunday, but he did not get into specifics. The moving parts necessary in a multi-team deal make them more difficult, and Towers said he would rather not go there.
“There are a lot of talks of multi-team deals, too, that area going on involving us,” he said. “I would always rather deal directly than indirectly. Sometimes there are clubs where your strength is their strength, and it doesn’t work out that way. Not the way I like to do it.”
“Some clubs and GMs enjoy that. They think that’s cool. Get four, five, six teams involved in there. It is not quite that easy. It actually creates problems and issues. It kind of muddies the waters. You’re hearing about top prospects out there. You don’t know for a fact that you can get that guy. I’ve heard some of the best prospects in the game that are available. I’m like ‘you’ve got to be kidding me.’ ”
Just then a crawl on the MLB Network on the TV in background read: D-backs being asked about Bauer, Skaggs.
“It’s accurate,” Towers said with a chuckle.
The D-backs have an excess of young pitchers from which to trade, but they likely would not be part of an Upton package. If the D-backs cannot get a top-of-the-rotation piece for Upton, they could use their younger prospects in a package to get more of a No. 2-3 starter.
After agreeing with Eric Hinske as a veteran bench component Tuesday, Towers also said he expects to sign another veteran infield bench player and a backup catcher before the meetings end Thursday, adding that the D-backs have several deadline offers out. Towers had several meetings planned with free agents Tuesday night. Free agent Eric Chavez seems a good fit as a candidate to play third and pinch hit, and the catching candidates include former D-backs Wil Nieves and Henry Blanco.
Towers said he also planned to talk to at least one player about a contract extension Tuesday night, although he did not identify the player. Towers previously indicated he would be open to discussing extensions with Aaron Hill, Paul Goldschmidt and J.J. Putz.
Talks with the Reds appeared to go nowhere because while the Reds have an excess at shortstop with Zach Cosart and prospect Didi Gregorius, neither appears to be a fit. Scouts liked Gregorius in the Arizona Fall League, but he is not believed to be major-league ready.
“I wouldn’t think there is anything close to the Reds right yet. They have players we like, and we have players they like,” Towers said.
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The D-backs remain interested in Seibu Lions shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima, but he is said to be seeking a starting position, something the D-backs cannot offer after obtaining Cliff Pennington from Oakland. Nakajima is being courted by Oakland, which does not have a shortstop after Stephen Drew declined his option, and San Francisco.
As Towers sees the free-agent prices soar, Miguel Montero’s five-year, $60 million extension signed last summer looks remarkably shrewd, too.
“How big would Miggy have been right now?,” he said. “We probably would have had no chance. We probably went to where we didn’t want to go because if we wait, we have no chance.”