Rays could emerge as front-runners for Justin Upton

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The Rays may have an Upton in their lineup next season after all.

While B.J. Upton declined a one-year, $13.3 million qualifying offer earlier today and is expected to land a lucrative multi-year contract in free agency, Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com hears from rival executives that the Rays might emerge as the front-runners to pull off a trade for his brother, Justin Upton.

This is obviously very preliminary chatter, but it’s thought that the Rays could be the best alternative for the Diamondbacks if the Rangers stand firm in their refusal to give up either Elvis Andrus or top prospect Jurickson Profar. Rosenthal notes that the Rays could offer either James Shields or Jeremy Hellickson, giving Arizona a top-of-the-rotation talent. They could also offer prospect shortstop Hak-Ju Lee as part of a package, though it’s possible the Diamondbacks would have to part with additional talent to make it happen.

For what it’s worth, Rosenthal hears that some teams aren’t yet convinced that the Diamondbacks will move Upton this winter. That skepticism is probably warranted, as Kevin Towers shopped the talented outfielder during his first offseason as GM two years ago and ended up keeping him. But the rumor mill is alive and well.

Marlins option Tom Koehler to Triple-A, recall Hunter Cervenka

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Long-time rotation mainstay Tom Koehler was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans on Monday and reliever Hunter Cervenka was recalled, the Marlins announced.

Koehler, 31, made 131 starts out of the Marlins’ rotation over the last five years, but his 12 this season have not been good, so the club hopes he can figure things out with a stint in the minors. He’s carrying a 7.92 ERA with a 44/29 K/BB ratio in 55 2/3 innings. Koehler battled bursitis in his right shoulder in May and June, which may partially explain his struggles.

Cervenka, 27, posted a 4.50 ERA with a 34/21 K/BB ratio in 34 innings of relief with New Orleans. He hasn’t pitched in the majors yet this season, but compiled a 3.53 ERA over 43 1/3 innings in the bigs last year in the Marlins’ bullpen.

Nationals, Dodgers, and Red Sox are interested in Pat Neshek

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At the trade deadline, relief pitching is the name of the game and one of the names clearly available is Pat Neshek. Today Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reports that the Nationals, Dodgers, and Red Sox are among the clubs who are closely scouting the Phillies reliever. Last week Ken Rosenthal reported that the Brewers and Rays were involved as well.

Neshek is an impending free agent, so he may come cheaper than Justin Wilson or some of the other bullpen arms available right now. The All-Star is 36 and is posting a fantastic season, featuring a 1.12 ERA and 45/5 K/BB ratio over 40.1 innings this season.