INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – The voices in the room say one thing. The waggling heads in the lobby say another. The suspicions lie somewhere in between.
The Texas Rangers would love nothing more than to have Josh Hamilton back. And yet they've not engaged Hamilton or his agent in a manner that would suggest anything of the sort. The conclusion being, the Rangers will court Hamilton respectfully, but from a distance, and are fully prepared to have Hamilton discover work elsewhere.
The Arizona Diamondbacks do not intend to trade Justin Upton. And yet they're on winter No. 3 in which every other team's general manager comes away with an identical notion – that the Diamondbacks will indeed trade Justin Upton. Meaning, yet again there's enough smoke in the lobby of the general managers' meetings to have firemen from neighboring counties gassing up their trucks.
The Los Angeles Angels are not utterly dependant on signing free-agent right-hander Zack Greinke. Of course, they traded away one-fifth of their starting rotation and declined to secure another fifth of it, and the rest of the market beyond Greinke is a tad light on high-end starters. As we learned last winter, when on a single morning they struck for Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, the Angels may be second (or third) in the September, but they can be first in December.
[Related: Ultimate MLB free-agent rankings 2012-13]
To a soundtrack of bemused hotel guests and their clattering children and golf bags, dozens of executives from baseball's 30 teams gathered at the Hyatt Grand Champions here to share their problems. The best among them, the only to end its season with a parade, the San Francisco Giants, have 11 free agents. The least among them, losers of 107 games, the Houston Astros, have it worse – they have only two.
But on a day the San Diego Padres lost 24-year-old catcher Yasmani Grandal for 50 games to the rigors of MLB's drug-testing program, and the day the New York Mets granted 34-year-old outfielder Jason Bay $21 million to leave the organization for good, the news cycle whirled around Hamilton, Upton and Greinke, even when there was no real news.
As the market for Hamilton arranges itself for one of the more intriguing free agents in history, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said he is "staying in touch" with Hamilton's representative, Mike Moye. Moye has said little – if anything – publicly about Hamilton's free agency, other than to decline comment. Industry sentiments suggest Hamilton's talents (and idiosyncrasies) would play well in Baltimore, Atlanta, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Detroit and Seattle along with Texas, and that most are reluctant to commit to a contract that pushes Hamilton too far into his 30s. He's 31.
"They're going through the process and we've got to prepare the club like he won't be back," Daniels said. "We're open to it if it makes sense to him and makes sense for us.
"There's a presumption out there we don't want Josh back. That's not accurate. I'd love to have Josh back. … The reality is this guy's been a stud for this organization for the better part of five years."
If Hamilton were to near an agreement with another club, Daniels said he suspected he'd hear from Moye before a final decision was made. Meantime, Daniels has holes in his outfield and lineup to fill, and those solutions could come sooner than Hamilton's pace.
Indeed, Daniels could find his match in Arizona, where general manager Kevin Towers is going on year three of fielding Upton inquiries, and this rendition seems more serious than the rest. If Towers was open to the idea of trading Upton when he was due to make $4.25 million, and listened again when Upton was due to make $6.75 million, what must he be thinking now that Upton will make $9.75 million in 2013, and nearly $29 million in the two seasons after that?
"It's been like that the last two or three years," Towers said. "We're not out there shopping Justin Upton."
People ask, he said.
"We listen," he said.
Upton, 25, fell off somewhat in 2012 after a 2011 season in which he was fourth in NL MVP voting. After which he was rumored to be on the trading block.
"I would imagine over the next couple days we'll have dialogue with teams," Towers said. "He's a very young, athletic outfielder who's signed with cost certainty. I'm sure that's why a lot of clubs are interested."
The Angels have plenty of outfielders. Enough, apparently, to allow Torii Hunter to walk and therefore bring Vernon Wells to within a heartbeat from a lot of at-bats. The issue in Anaheim is pitching, and whether the rotation can be rebuilt when the free-agent options behind Greinke are Anibal Sanchez, Edwin Jackson, Hiroki Kuroda, Kyle Lohse and, one supposes, Dan Haren. The Tampa Bay Rays seem open to trading a starter, but the Angels only a few months ago gave up three prospects for a starter – that being Greinke.
The competition for Greinke would seem to be thick and coming from – for the Angels – uncomfortable directions. The Rangers could sign him and make the AL West more miserable for the Angels than it already is. Or the Dodgers could sign him and continue to win back Southern California.
General manager Jerry Dipoto said he's less interested in those sorts of elements than he is improving his own club's two weakest areas: starting pitching and relief pitching. He insisted the Angels' immediate future is not tied to Greinke, either.
"I can't spend a lot of my time worrying about anything but Angels business," he said.
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