Justin Upton

How about an Upton-Upton-Heyward outfield in Atlanta?

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We know the Braves are in hot pursuit of free agent B.J. Upton, who could well be the next top free agent to sign. It makes one wonder if they’d considering pairing the Upton brothers and bringing in Justin from Arizona.

On the surface, it seems like a great idea. Neither Upton brother has quite fulfilled his potential, but the two happen to be pretty competitive with one another; putting them in the same lineup would be quite the motivational tactic.

And the Braves have the artillery to get a deal done. The Rangers tried earlier this month to trade for Atlanta shortstop Andrelton Simmons, strictly for the purposes of using him in an Upton deal.  The slick-fielding Simmons, who should begin contending for Gold Gloves as soon as 2013, hit .289/.335/.416 in 166 at-bats as a 22-year-old rookie last season. The Diamondbacks might initially ask for a pitching prospect along with Simmons, but I think they’d make the trade straight up if it was offered.

That would leave the Braves with a lineup of:

3B Martin Prado
CF B.J. Upton
RF Jason Heyward
LF Justin Upton
1B Freddie Freeman
2B Dan Uggla
C Brian McCann/Gerald Laird
SS Paul Janish/Tyler Pastornicky

Not bad, right? It currently looks like McCann will miss the first month or two after shoulder surgery, but even minus his bat, that’s still a really nice lineup.

Of course, acquiring such an outfield would have huge payroll implications. B.J. Upton figures to command about $15 million per year as a free agent. Justin will make $9.75 million next year, $14.25 million in 2014 and $14.5 million in 2015 under the terms of his deal. Even if B.J.’s deal would be backloaded a bit, it’d probably mean taking on $22 million for 2013 and $28 million for 2014. Plus, the player getting subtracted, Simmons, will make the minimum for the next three years.

So, no, the whole scenario isn’t at all likely to materialize. However, the Braves do have the ability to make it happen if they want to. If money is tight, they could easily lop an additional $6.5 million off the payroll by trading Paul Maholm (they’d still have a rotation of Tim Hudson, Kris Medlen, Tommy Hanson, Mike Minor and Randall Delgado, with Brandon Beachy hopefully returning at midseason). If only Liberty Media weren’t so stingy with the payroll, these are the kinds of splashes the Braves could be making every offseason.

Yadier Molina gets cast removed from surgically-repaired thumb

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Norm Hall/Getty Images North America
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Yadier Molina underwent surgery to repair a ligament tear in his right thumb shortly after the Cardinals were eliminated from the NLDS by the Cubs, and then he needed a followup procedure two months later.

It’s been an offseason of rest and rehab for the seven-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glover, though he’s about ready to ramp up the intensity of workouts with the beginning of spring training approaching …

Brayan Pena was signed to a two-year, $5 million free agent contract this winter to provide more reliable depth behind the plate. He’ll be the Cardinals’ starter at catcher come Opening Day if Yadi isn’t quite ready.

Molina started a whopping 131 games behind the plate in 2015.

Jose Fernandez wants $30 million a year, Marlins don’t plan on paying

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Rob Foldy/Getty Images North America
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You’ve heard the stories by now. Jose Fernandez does not get along with Marlins management and is doubtful to sign a long-term contract with the team.

There’s still time for those relationships to be repaired — Fernandez can’t become a free agent until after the 2018 season — but we also have a monetary issue at play.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald writes Sunday that the Marlins are “under the impression” Fernandez and his representatives want $30 million per year on a long-term deal, a figure the Marlins “have no plans to meet.”

If the Marlins won’t pay, Fernandez and his reps will seek that number when the ace right-hander reaches free agency. That could be the same offseason Bryce Harper tries for $500 million.

A friend of Fernandez told Jackson that the 23-year-old native of Cuba was upset about some of the trades the Marlins made last summer and the removal of pitching coach Chuck Hernandez. You probably heard talk of Miami shopping Fernandez this winter, but the asking price was predictably sky-high.

Fernandez has been limited to 19 starts over the last two years because of Tommy John surgery and a biceps injury, but he boasts a stellar 2.40 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and 10.5 K/9 in 289 career major league frames. He will make $2.8 million in 2016 and carries two more years of arbitration eligibility.

If he can put together a run of 30-start, 200-inning seasons, Fernandez will get that $30 million per year and probably much more.

Michael Brantley’s timetable off shoulder surgery is “hazy”

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Kirk Irwin/Getty Images North America
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Paul Hoynes at the Cleveland Plain Dealer has an in-depth look at how the Indians will manage their outfield during the early part of the 2016 season, in the absence of star Michael Brantley.

Brantley underwent labrum surgery on his right shoulder this past November and has not picked up a bat all winter. “In the off-season people know I love to hit,” Brantley acknowledged to Hoynes late last week. ”I hit a lot. It’s just been a change in my timetable.”

Hoynes says the projected date for Brantley’s 2016 debut is “hazy,” guessing that it might happen around late April or early May if everything continues to go smoothly. Shoulders can be tricky, for hitters and pitchers.

Rajai Davis, Abraham Almonte, and Lonnie Chisenhall figure to make up Cleveland’s primary starting outfield while Brantley is finishing his rehabilitation. Collin Cowgill and Joey Butler could also be in the mix. It’s a lacking group, tasked with replacing one of the most productive players in baseball.

Brantley, 28, has slashed .319/.382/.494 over the last two seasons, tallying 35 home runs, 90 doubles, 181 RBI, and 38 stolen bases in 293 games.

Could the talented Tribe be in for another slow start?

Shouldn’t this club be spending more money?

Jose Bautista had a courtside view of Saturday night’s epic NBA Slam Dunk Contest

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Elsa/Getty Images North America
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Zach LaVine of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic put on a tremendous show in Saturday night’s NBA Slam Dunk Contest up in Toronto, Canada. The stars were out to see it at the Air Canada Centre, and Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista had one of the very best views in the house. Check out this video he posted to Instagram of LaVine’s final dunk, a between-the-legs jam from just inside the free throw line …

Its a wrap!!! #BackToBack #SlamDunk #Champion @zachlavine8 🙌🏽🙌🏽🙌🏽🙌🏽

A video posted by Jose Bautista (@joeybats19) on

That is Toronto’s very own Drake going wild in the pink jacket. Gordon probably had the best individual dunk of the night, though, if we’re being really real …

Back to your regularly scheduled baseball programming. Pitchers and catchers report Friday.