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Wednesday, November 7, 2012
GM: Justin Upton not untouchable

By Jerry Crasnick
ESPN.com

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers said Wednesday it's "unlikely" the team will trade right fielder Justin Upton this offseason. But it won't be for a lack of dialogue.

Towers told reporters at the general managers' meetings that he's willing to engage in conversation if other teams approach him about Upton, the top overall pick in the 2005 draft and the player who has been identified for years as the central figure in the Diamondbacks' long-term plan.

Justin Upton
Justin Upton

"I'm open-minded and will hear what people have to say," Towers said. "If a deal presents itself that makes the Diamondbacks better by trading Justin Upton, I think I need to be open-minded to that. The last two years there has not been a deal that we felt makes us better. That's why we've retained him and we've kept him.

"We want to win in 2013. He will not be an easy guy for us to move. I think we've said that. It's probably unlikely we end up doing something with him, but if somebody is willing to step up and we think it's a deal that's going to make the Diamondbacks better going forward, we'll talk about trading him."

This marks the third time in two years that Upton has been mentioned prominently in trade speculation. Upton-related trade rumors first surfaced at the GM meetings in Florida two years ago, and resurfaced before the non-waiver trade deadline in July.

After the last round of speculation, club president Derrick Hall said he would be "surprised" if Upton was moved in the offseason. Both Hall and Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick have reiterated that stance on several occasions.

Upton, 25, had his best season in Arizona in 2011, when he hit 31 homers and logged an .898 OPS. He made the All-Star team, won a Silver Slugger Award and finished fourth in the National League MVP race.

But Upton's 2012 season was widely regarded as a disappointment. He ranked second in the NL with 107 runs scored, but hit only 17 home runs and posted an OPS of .785.

Towers said he is almost always receptive to trade discussions because the process helps him gather information and gives him a better idea how the players on his roster are valued throughout the industry. He recalled discussing closer Trevor Hoffman with other clubs during his tenure in San Diego, even though Hoffman had a no-trade clause and had been a franchise staple for years.

"I do not believe in saying, 'This guy is untouchable,' " Towers said. "In the right deal, you always need to be open-minded. Justin's name gets bandied about, but people here have asked me about (catcher) Miguel Montero and (first baseman) Paul Goldschmidt, too. They'd be tough guys for us to move, but I think I need to listen."

I'm open-minded and will hear what people have to say. If a deal presents itself that makes the Diamondbacks better by trading Justin Upton, I think I need to be open-minded to that. The last two years there has not been a deal that we felt makes us better. That's why we've retained him and we've kept him.

-- D-backs GM Kevin Towers

Several industry sources said the Diamondbacks might be courting trouble if Upton grows tired of the constant trade chatter and it puts a strain on his relationship with the organization. When Upton was asked about that possibility in August, he told ESPN.com, "When we get to the offseason, we'll cross that bridge."

Towers, for his part, said he's not concerned about the fallout from the ongoing trade speculation surrounding Upton.

"I talked to him during the season last year," Towers said. "I told him, 'Don't take this personally, but when people ask about you, I listen.' It's part of the business. When you're a special player like him, people are going to inquire about you. I think he can handle that. He's been through this for the last couple of years."

The Diamondbacks think they have the organizational outfield depth to discuss Upton, even though they recently traded center fielder Chris Young, his closest friend on the team, to the Oakland Athletics. Arizona still has Gerardo Parra and Jason Kubel on the major league roster, and prospects Adam Eaton and A.J. Pollock both made their big league debuts in 2012.

Towers said the Diamondbacks would want a "legitimate everyday player" or a "legitimate top-end-of-the-rotation-type starter" in any deal involving Upton. The Texas Rangers, who might lose Josh Hamilton in free agency, are one potential landing spot because of the emergence of top prospect Jurickson Profar makes shortstop Elvis Andrus expendable in a trade. Boston, Detroit and Atlanta are among several other big league teams in the market for outfield upgrades this offseason.

Upton wasn't the only Arizona player to surface in trade speculation at the meetings. Sources said the Diamondbacks are also willing to listen on pitcher Trevor Bauer, the team's top pick in the 2011 draft.

Bauer is coming off a strong minor league season, but sources said the Diamondbacks have developed questions about his makeup and coachability, and that he's fallen out of favor with some people in the organization.

Towers told reporters that "I listen on everybody," but added that the Diamondbacks are hesitant to dip into their supply of young pitching after trading Jarrod Parker to Oakland last offseason.

"We're not trying to move Trevor Bauer or shopping him at all," Towers said.