Mariners, Diamondbacks discuss Justin Upton

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CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman reports that the Mariners and Diamondbacks met tonight to discuss Justin Upton.

Heyman’s report is just a tweet, so there are no details on the meeting. Heyman does, however, speculate on whether an offer of top prospect Taijuan Walker and Nick Franklin might be enough get a deal done.

Such a package would certainly intrigue the Diamondbacks, who seem to have their hearts set on acquiring a long-term shortstop for Upton. Franklin isn’t a can’t-miss guy, but he is one of the better shortstop prospects in the minors. He hit .322/.394/.502 in 205 at-bats in Double-A and .243/.310/.416 in 267 at-bats in Triple-A as a 21-year-old last season. He also batted .338/.422/.519 in the offense-heavy Arizona Fall League.

Walker, 20, is regarded as one of the game’s best pitching prospects, though he didn’t excel statistically last season. As one of the youngest players in the Southern League, he went 7-10 with a 4.69 ERA and a 118/50 K/BB ratio in 126 2/3 innings for Double-A Jacksonville.

Danny Hultzen and James Paxton are two other top pitching prospects the Mariners probably discussed with the Diamondbacks.

Upton, 25, is perhaps the most intriguing trade property out there right now, even though he’s coming off a down year in which he hit .280/.355/.430 with 17 homers in 554 at-bats. He’d be a terrific foundation piece for the Mariners’ rebuilding efforts. Adding him would give the team a 2013 lineup that looks something like this:

2B Dustin Ackley
3B Kyle Seager
RF Justin Upton
C/DH John Jaso
1B Justin Smoak
DH/C Jesus Montero
LF Michael Saunders
CF Franklin Gutierrez
SS Brendan Ryan

Yadier Molina will not enter contract negotiations during the 2017 season

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Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Cardinals’ catcher Yadier Molina is still open to extension talks during the last week of spring training. Once Opening Day rolls around, however, Molina has preemptively nixed any contract negotiations until the end of the 2017 season, when he’s scheduled to hit free agency.

Molina wants to stay with the Cardinals, or so he’s telling reporters, but he’s also “not afraid” to test the free agent market this fall should a deal fail to materialize. Via Goold:

I would love to stay, but at the same time I’m not afraid to go to free agency. I’ve still got many years in the tank. Believe me. I feel great. I feel like a 20-year-old kid. I’m not afraid to go to free agency.

The 34-year-old backstop is entering his final year under contract, though Goold points out that he has a $15 million option for 2018 that he can choose to decline in the event that it’s exercised by the team. He’s reportedly searching for a figure closer to those made by other top catchers like Buster Posey and Russell Martin.

The 2017 season will mark Molina’s 14th year in the Cardinals’ organization, building on a career that has spanned seven All-Star campaigns, nine postseason runs and two World Series championships in St. Louis. He batted .307/.360/.427 with eight home runs and a .787 OPS for the club in 2016.

Colby Rasmus could start 2017 on the disabled list

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Colby Rasmus isn’t ready to take outfield reps just yet. According to Rays’ manager Kevin Cash, that’s a red flag, one that could potentially postpone Rasmus’ debut as the club’s designated hitter and outfielder in 2017. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that Rasmus will need to prove he can play a defensive position before getting cleared for the active roster, something which the veteran outfielder has yet to do this spring.

Rasmus, 30, signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Rays following his two-year run with the Astros. He batted a meager .206/.286/.355 with 15 home runs and a .641 OPS in 2016 and was shut down in late September with an unspecified hip/groin issue. Entering the 2017 season, he’s expected to work his way back to a full-time role after undergoing surgery to repair his core muscle and left hip labrum last October.

The Rays also finalized their one-year, $1.2 million deal with catcher Derek Norris on Saturday and will need to clear room for him on the 40-man roster. Topkin speculates that the move could send Rasmus to the 60-day disabled list, though the outfielder is not projected to miss more than a couple weeks of the regular season.