NASHVILLE -- The most talked about player at the winter meetings is a 25-year-old, five-tool corner outfielder playing under a reasonable contract for the next three seasons ($38.5 million).
But at a time when you might think the talk about Justin Upton of the Diamondbacks should be about the possibility of joining guys like Ryan Zimmerman, Joey Votto and Evan Longoria as a "face of the franchise" player signed to a lengthy extension, Upton's name is being dangled in serious trade discussions for the third time in two years. The longer the discussions go on, the more obvious it seems that Upton and the Diamondbacks are better off without each other.
Seattle ace Felix Hernandez is just 16 months older than Upton and two years away from free agency -- one less season than Upton. But the Mariners have sent nothing but the consistent message that King Felix is not available. Upton? Get in line and make a bid.
The Diamondbacks have made it clear that they like Upton, but not enough to keep him off limits, let alone extend him. Upton no doubt has received this message.
Why would Upton be shopped so easily and so often? The Diamondbacks know him better than anybody else, so they must question whether his inconsistency, which is not unusual for a young player, is likely to improve enough in Arizona for him to reach his tremendous potential. It may happen with a change of scenery.
"They have a great [coaching] staff there," said one rival executive. "I would think they're a pretty good judge of talent and what a guy brings to the park on a night-in, night-out basis. It does make you think."
Injuries and a thick body type are part of the inconsistency. Upton has had trouble getting through a full season without injuries, some of which have kept him off the field and some of which simply have limited him. In five full seasons he has played more than 150 games once, often hit by ailments in the second half of the season. The younger the player, the less the injury risk, so it seems odd that Upton, still without a 100-RBI season, did not start 18 percent of the games in his age 20-24 seasons.
Then there is the extreme home/road split of Upton. For a guy who early in his career was compared to Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez as something of a superstar prodigy, when you get him out of Chase Field he's more like Shelly Duncan. Check out Upton's career numbers on the road when compared against Duncan's career numbers:
That's just too weird. You expect some variation in home/road splits, but after more than five years in the big leagues Upton is just another guy, not a franchise player, when he's not in Arizona. Weird.
Upton, Jay Bruce and Andrew McCutchen were born 10 months apart and all are playing under six-year contracts worth between $51 million and $51.5 million. The Reds and Pirates would hang up the phone if you called on Bruce or McCutchen, who continue to improve. The Diamondbacks will gladly take your call on Upton, who is coming off a year in which he tied for 77th in slugging percentage, just behind Michael Saunders, and was outhomered by Raul Ibañez.
It's very possible Upton would flourish with his older brother, B.J., who recently signed with Atlanta, or put up monster numbers in a deep Texas lineup, or even become one of the rare players to make Safeco Park in Seattle look small. (Okay, that may be a stretch given the history of hitters failing in that place.) Upton is just now entering his prime years. He still looks like an MVP waiting to happen. But he's been too available for too long and known too well by the Diamondbacks to think it might happen in Arizona.
Over the past nine seasons, the Mariners have ranked last or next-to-last in runs scored eight times, including last each of the past four years. Safeco Field is to hitters what Coors Field is to pitchers: an ego- and stat-destroyer.
Think about how many times in that span Seattle has signed or traded for a hitter and watched the guy crumble to the point where the Mariners preferred to pay them not to play for them. Since 2005, they have eaten $32 million worth of contracts on Chone Figgins, Milton Bradley, Richie Sexson, Brad Wilkerson, Jose Vidro and Scott Spiezio -- and that doesn't even include hitters such as Adrian Beltre, Jack Cust, Carl Everett, Jose Vidro and Casey Kotchman who were appreciably better hitters elsewhere.
Once again Seattle is desperate for hitting, even with the fences being pulled in at Safeco next year. With an agreement on Jason Bay and discussions with Ibañez, the Mariners are cornering the market on aging, poor defenders who consider the area home. But Seattle needs a big-time slugger like Josh Hamilton to make a dent in its offensive problems and to break the Safeco stigma. Even Nick Swisher would be a worthy addition. Michael Bourn, while a dynamic offensive player and premium defender, would help, but with almost no power in the best of circumstances, he could be another in the line of good hitters to be swallowed by Safeco. Hamilton continues to be the Mariners' top target.
• Mets manager Terry Collins, signed through 2013, told general manager Sandy Alderson on Wednesday that he is perfectly fine with putting off any contract discussions until after next season, according to a source close to the club. Jim Leyland took a similar tactic with Detroit prior to last season.
• The Major League Rules Committee met for more than three hours Wednesday. Among the items discussed: outlawing the fake-to-third-throw-to-first pickoff move and getting rid of the 45-foot running lane to first base. The committee does not have the power to change rules, but can present recommendations for change to ownership and the players association for approval.
• Teams may be leery of the injury history of free agent reliever Jason Grilli, but he has found new life in the past two seasons with the best stuff of his career. Here are the strikeout rate leaders over the past two seasons among all pitchers with at least 90 games: 1. Craig Kimbrel (15.66) 2. Kenley Jansen (14.79) 3. Aroldis Chapman (14.28) 4. David Robertson (12.79) and 5. Grilli (12.51).
• The Yankees "lost out" on Russell Martin, Eric Chavez and Jeff Keppinger and you would think they passed on Berra, Nettles and Boyer. New York is under the gun to fix an offense that without Martin, Ibañez, Swisher, Chavez, Andruw Jones and Alex Rodriguez is looking at a net loss of 45 percent of the team's 2012 home runs. But let's see how this plays out. Kevin Youkilis and A.J. Pierzynski would help. Maybe the Yankees are a stealth player in a big trade. It is true that the biggest question at the winter meetings is, "What is going on with the Yankees?" But it's too early in the off-season to write them off just yet.