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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Royals' Greinke, D-Backs' Upton hot topics at meetings


ORLANDO, Fla. -- Early in the 2007 season, the Rangers were making one of the biggest decisions in franchise history. They were trying to decide whether to trade Mark Teixeira.

One big consideration that pushed them toward exploring a deal: an upcoming free-agent market they perceived as weak, which in turn could push up Teixeira's value.

Justin Upton is said to be on the radars of the Red Sox and Yankees. (Getty Images)  
Justin Upton is said to be on the radars of the Red Sox and Yankees. (Getty Images)  
The Rangers decided to market Teixeira, and eventually sent him to the Braves in a deal that brought them Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz, among others. It worked out.

And now here we are, 3 1/2 years later, with another free-agent market perceived as weak, or at least thin at the top.

This time, the Rangers are on the other side, the buyers' side. But the circumstances are similar, and the result could be the same.

Sometime between now and opening day, probably between now and the end of the year, we could see a trade or two that makes Tuesday's Dan Uggla deal seem relatively minor in comparison.

The most likely big names to move: Royals pitcher Zack Greinke and Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton.

Upton has been a hot topic at this week's general manager meetings, so much so that one executive familiar with the talks expressed some optimism Wednesday a deal will eventually get done, based on the early tone of the discussions. The Red Sox and Yankees are believed to have shown the most interest so far.

There's no indication the Greinke talks have heated up yet (Royals general manager Dayton Moore had to skip the meetings for personal reasons, although the team was represented). It's likely that talks on Greinke won't really pick up steam until Cliff Lee picks a team, something that might not happen until the winter meetings next month.

But once Lee signs, Greinke immediately becomes the best pitcher available, either as a free agent or through trade, and it might not even be close.

The Royals would suddenly be in the position the Rangers were in with Teixeira, holding a difference-maker in a market that includes few other difference-makers.

And, interestingly enough, the Rangers could this time be the buyer. If they lose out on Lee -- and most people in the game continue to expect he'll eventually be a Yankee -- they would be the instant front-runner for Greinke, because of need, potential interest and talent available to trade.

"Texas has always been interested," said one official who has closely followed Greinke's career.

The same official named the Blue Jays and Brewers as two other teams that could become involved in talks for Greinke. It's believed the Brewers were on Greinke's no-trade list last year, but the pitcher hasn't yet delivered his new list to the Royals. That's expected to happen in the next few weeks.

It's believed teams like the Yankees and Red Sox would remain on Greinke's no-go list, which would limit his market. But Greinke's contract (he's scheduled to make $13.5 million each of the next two years) would make him affordable to even teams outside the biggest markets.

A Greinke deal is no certainty, because of what the Royals would need in return (and the same can be said for an Upton deal).

Like the Diamondbacks, the Royals are telling people they would need a huge return for Greinke, which people familiar with the talks take to mean Kansas City would need a major-league starter, a top minor-league prospect (probably another pitcher), and also a position player.

The Royals and Diamondbacks can ask for a ton, because neither team needs to make a trade this winter. The Royals have Greinke for two more years, and the Diamondbacks have Upton for another four.

But there are reasons for both teams to explore deals now, beyond the favorable market conditions.

In the Royals' case, Greinke became discouraged with the team's progress during the 95-loss 2010 season. While there's a chance the expected arrival of top prospects Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer could change his views, there's absolutely no certainty he would be willing to discuss a new contract in Kansas City before his current deal expires.

The Royals aren't expected to contend next year, and might not be ready to contend in 2012, either. If they can't win before Greinke's deal expires, the question might be when he leaves rather than if he does, and now might be the time for the Royals to maximize the return.

As for Upton, new Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers understands he needs to rebuild a team that has been a big disappointment the past two years. While the Diamondbacks still like Upton, it's entirely possible another team will place a higher value on him than Arizona does, and thus offer a hard-to-turn-down return of four or five significant pieces.

As Towers puts it, "You never know when there's a situation where someone wants to grossly overpay."

While Upton and Greinke have moved to the front of baseball's possible trade class, they're not alone. Don't be surprised if you also hear talk this winter about Prince Fielder of the Brewers and Adrian Gonzalez of the Padres.

There was a time when Fielder and Gonzalez were expected to be the most likely guys to be moved this winter, but there are a few reasons that has changed.

First off, the Brewers and Padres are hoping to contend next year, and that would be easier to do by keeping their hard-hitting first basemen (at least for the first half of the season). The Brewers also need to worry about keeping up interest in a fan base that has grown considerably since the team advanced to the playoffs in 2008, and the Padres will think about building off last year's surprising second-place finish.

Also, while teams trading for Greinke or Upton would have them for at least two more years, teams dealing for Fielder or Gonzalez would know that free agency is only a year away, and that an extension would either be ultra-pricey or just plain unlikely.

It doesn't mean Fielder or Gonzalez couldn't be moved. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said Wednesday he hasn't decided whether to put Fielder on the market, while Padres GM Jed Hoyer made clear he has talked to teams about Gonzalez.

Hoyer said Gonzalez's recent shoulder surgery hasn't been an issue for interested teams, and he pointed out that Gonzalez started the final 81 games of the season.

Teams are interested (the Red Sox have long coveted Gonzalez), but first base isn't a spot where the free-agent market is particularly weak.

It is weak overall, in a year where plenty of teams have money and are looking at quick improvements.

The conditions are there for a big deal to be made, just as they were for the Rangers in 2007.


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