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.

Brandon McCarthy wins final spot in Dodgers’ rotation

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We learned on Monday that Hyun-Jin Ryu won one of the final two spots in the Dodgers’ starting rotation. Brandon McCarthy has won the other, Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register reports. Alex Wood was McCarthy’s competitor for the spot.

McCarthy, 33, posted a 4.85 ERA across four appearances spanning 13 innings this spring, yielding seven earned runs on 14 hits and a walk with seven strikeouts. Wood, a southpaw, gave up five earned runs in six innings against the Reds on Tuesday, which might have factored into the decision.

Last season, McCarthy made nine starts and one relief appearance, posting a 4.95 ERA with a 44/26 K/BB ratio in 40 innings. In the event McCarthy falters, the club has Wood as well as Julio Urias and the injured Scott Kazmir as potential replacements.

Yankees re-sign Jon Niese to a minor league deal

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The Yankees have re-signed pitcher Jon Niese to a minor league contract, George A. King III of the New York Post reports. Niese was released on Sunday, but he’ll stick around and provide rotation depth for the Yankees.

Niese had knee surgery last August and got a late start to spring training as a result. In six spring appearances lasting an inning each, the lefty gave up three earned runs on five hits and a walk with five strikeouts.

Niese, a veteran of nine seasons, put up an aggregate 5.50 ERA with an 88/47 K/BB ratio in 121 innings last season between the Pirates and Mets.