Short supply of Upton trade partners

BY foxsports • July 12, 2012

It's hard to know exactly what to make of Kevin Towers' calculus regarding Justin Upton.

Towers has clearly taken the "situation" beyond the rumor stage by talking openly about his willingness to listen to offers for the closest thing the Diamondbacks have to a superstar.

For the media, such candor is a refreshing and dramatic departure from 99 percent of what we routinely get from front-office types. (For that matter, so were Ken Kendrick's comments on Upton and Stephen Drew earlier this year.)

But logic tells you there's more at play here than just shooting from the hip or being honest to a fault.

Is it a motivational tactic? A daring, raise-the-stakes gambit to see just how far teams are willing to go while jockeying among one another for a potentially elite talent? A proactive public relations ploy to grease the exit and ensure that the fan base doesn't feel blindsided?

We'll probably never know. But this much we do know: Towers explicitly said the D-backs are looking for major-league-ready talent, their biggest areas of need are on the left side of the infield, and they are in a "win mode" -- those are Towers' words -- rather than a future mode.

Taking that for what it's worth, the best we're left to do is speculate on what fits those parameters. Roll call, in alphabetical order:

This one is getting a lot of traction in various internet reports. Martin Prado could slide in at third base. He's 28, makes $4.7 million this year and is hitting .321 with five home runs. He's arbitration eligible in 2013 and a potential free agent in 2014. He's a good player, but no one's ever mistaken him for a superstar. The Braves could sweeten the pot with some young pitching talent, but the D-backs seem to have that area covered.

There have been whispers and innuendo, publicly denied by Theo Epstein, that the Cubs would consider moving All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro under the right circumstances. He's 22, a .301 career hitter, has just begun to scratch the surface of his potentially immense talent, doesn't become eligible for free agency until 2017 and has had enough moments of lackadaisical play that some question his desire and baseball IQ. Sound like anyone familiar?

Hanley Ramirez would certainly be an upgrade over Stephen Drew and Ryan Roberts, but he's due $31.5 million over the next two years. Would the D-backs be willing to take on that type of salary, and would the Marlins even be willing to move him?

Shortstop Ian Desmond, 26, is having a fabulous season (17 home runs, 11 steals, .285), is being paid $513,000 and is ineligible for free agency until 2016. Flip side: He's never hit anywhere close to his current level in previous seasons and is not regarded as a stellar defensive player. He could be a starting point, but only that.

Texas has two premier minor-league prospects in 19-year-old shortstop Jurickson Profar and 23-year-old third baseman Mike Olt. Both are playing at Double-A, which doesn't necessarily mean they aren't "major-league ready," but it's a tough argument to make. Many consider Profar the top minor-league prospect in all of baseball, and he might be hard to pry loose, even if he is blocked by Elvis Andrus at shortstop. Which leads us to Andrus, who is 23 years old, in the first year of three-year, $14.4 million contract and hitting .293. He has already established himself as one of the AL's top shortstops -- albeit with minimal power. The Rangers gave him a starting job at age 20, so if they think Profar is a superior talent and close to ready at 19, the temptation to add Upton to an explosive lineup could be hard to resist.

Shortstop Zack Cozart is a 26-year-old who isn't eligible for free agency until 2018 and figures to have a lengthy and solid but unremarkable career. He's hitting .252 with nine home runs and a .298 on-base percentage. It's hard to see how the D-backs could sell a Cozart-based deal as a win-now proposition.

By my calculations and Towers' parameters, that seems about it.

Castro or Andrus might fill the bill. The other pots need considerable sweetening. We shall see, but in a city that's just had its heart ripped out by its favorite son/Sun, giving up on Upton for a discounted return would be an especially bitter pill to swallow.

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