By Sean McAdam
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Red Sox would love to find a way to work out a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks for outfielder Justin Upton, especially with the rival New York Yankees also engaged in talks for the same player.
But for now, the asking price -- said to be three players off the current major-league roster -- is simply prohibitive.
A Red Sox source Tuesday had classified talks for Upton as preliminary in nature and unlikely to yield anything tangible. But according to an industry source, talks continued late Tuesday night before stalling again -- at least for now -- over the Diamondbacks' most recent demands.
Arizona general manager Kevin Towers, as aggressive as any executive in the game, is willing to talk about anybody in his organization. But according to an executive familiar with the nature of the Arizona talks, the Diamondbacks are, predictably, asking for a lot.
Upton is just 23 and possesses speed, power and impressive defensive skills. He's also under control through 2015. Over the next five seasons, Upton will be paid an average of just under 10 million per season, totaling 49.5 million.
The Diamondbacks want an outfielder to replace Upton, along with two pitchers. Among current Red Sox outfielders, Mike Cameron and J.D. Drew are both too seasoned and too expensive, while Ryan Kalish hasn't proven that he's ready to play regularly at the major-league level. That leaves Jacoby Ellsbury as the most logical part of any package.
From among the team's pitchers, Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester are considered virtually untouchable and Josh Beckett and John Lackey are too pricey. Jonathan Papelbon is a year away from free agency, making him unattractive to Arizona, but set-up man Daniel Bard and lefty Felix Doubront would fit the profile.
Of that trio, Bard would be the toughest for the Sox to move, given that the bullpen already needs improvement. Including Bard in a deal would mean an even bigger makeover for the relief corps.
Conceivably, the Sox could deal Bard and sign free agent closer Rafael Soriano to set-up Jonathan Papelbon, with an eye toward having Soriano replace Papelbon as closer in 2012. But that would require a significant investment in Soriano, a player who has had durability issues.
What concerns the Red Sox is the possibility of the Yankees making a deal for Upton, then adding Cliff Lee, the premier free agent starting pitcher.
After being dismissed as general manager of the San Diego Padres after the 2009 season, Towers served as a scout and consultant for the Yankees in 2010 and gained first-hand knowledge of their minor league system. Undoubtedly, Towers has a ready-made list of prospects he would like to get from his former team.
But though the Yankees boast a number of top prospects, led by catcher Jesus Montero, pitcher Andrew Brackman and infielder Eduardo Nunez, most are not near ready to play at the big league level and Towers had made it clear that he's not interested in dealing off major leaguers for prospects -- no matter how talented.
"I told our fans that I'd like to turn this thing around in a hurry," said Towers, who took over a team which finished last in the N.L. West. "I'd like to compete and hopefully win a division in 2011. Any move that we make is going to be (for) more major-league ready players. I'm not looking to acquire 'A' ball prospects right now."
That means that Towers has little interest in the likes of Anthony Rizzo, Jose Iglesias or Casey Kelly -- three of Boston's most highly-regarded prospects.
It also suggests that the Yankees would have to be willing to include current major leaguers such as Brett Gardner and Joba Chamberlain to match the kind of package of players being asked for from the Red Sox.