Ah, the World Series is a distant memory. The individual awards are starting to roll in and the Hot Stove is finally starting to heat up. We already know that the Yankees are going to resign Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter. Andy Pettitte has the option of returning for 2011 and the Yankees are hotly on Cliff Lee’s trail. Outside of those players, rumors began swirling yesterday that the Yankees contacting the Diamondbacks about 23-year-old phenomenon right fielder, Justin Upton. Upton, who is entering his fourth year as a starter, is two years removed from an impressive 20/20 season where he hit .300. Can we reasonably expect the Yankees to pursue the 2005 #1 pick or is this just simply a case of the Yankees completing their necessary due diligence on one of the game’s more promising young talents?

Before evaluating any potential trade, a team must take into account a player’s current contract situation. After Upton’s breakout season in 2009, the Diamondbacks rewarded him with a six-year, $51.25 million contract. A contract of that magnitude to a player who was only 22-years-old signifies Upton has Hall of Fame type talent. FutureBacks, the Diamondbacks scouting organization, wrote this about the slugging outfielder in 2006:

The scary part is that now at the age of 19, Upton is still going to get a lot stronger than he already is.  The encouraging part is that he’s not the type of power hitter that uses a big, long swing at the plate to hit the ball even harder than he needs to.  Upton exhibits very little motion with the bat and remains balanced throughout his swing.  This sort of approach is very conducive to making consistent contact and driving the ball to all fields.  The power will come naturally without his having to swing overly hard.

One scout even went on to say that Upton was the third highest rated prospect in the last twenty years. The only two prospected rated above him?

Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez.

Nice company to be in right?

In 422 games, Upton has hit 60 home runs and stolen 41 bases. Upton boasts an impressive .352 on-base percentage and is a career .272 hitter. However, scouts are a little startled that Upton has struck out 447 times, roughly once per game. Such growing pains are expected in younger players, but no other player in Major League history struck out more than 400 times before turning 23 years-old.

Regardless of Upton’s high strike out rate, he is a plus defender (7.6 UZR in 2010) while carrying a WAR of 3.1 after only three full seasons. To put that in perspective, Alex Rodriguez posted a WAR of 4.6 during his third full season before posting an average WAR of 8.2 over his next six seasons.

So basically, Upton is already really, really good at 23 and his ceiling is higher than any player his age. Few players in recent memory have his upside. The strikeouts are a concern, but alike all good younger hitters, he’ll adjust.

So why would the Diamondbacks seemingly put Upton on the block? Well, new GM Kevin Towers have a reputation for dangling his star players and will not hesistate to move Upton if the right deal comes along. Mind you, Towers worked with Brian Cashman over the past two seasons and the lines of communication are definitely open.

But will the Diamondbacks get a reasonable deal from the Yankees?

To get the Diamondbacks even interested, the Yankees would have to start negotiations with either Phil Hughes or Jesus Montero. Even then, the Diamondbacks would probably demand a high-ceiling arm (think Andrew Brackman/Manny Banuelos), a position player (Eduardo Nunez, Brandon Laird) and probably a low-level prospect. It may seem like a lot, but when a player has a favorable contract, has a past as decorated as Upton’s, and is blossoming at 23, the world may not be enough. Remember too that prospects are just that, prospects. As promising as some of the Yankee youngsters seem, they haven’t proven anything yet. Upton has started to show his potential on a consistent basis.

Plus, moving Upton would really set the franchise back a few years. The fans are already becoming restless as they have been promised success year after year. What type of message would it send by trading him to the Yankees?

I don’t expect the Yankees to make a move for the talented right fielder this off-season. Brian Cashman would have to literally sell the farm for Upton and he has shown a patience in the past. The Yankee outfield really doesn’t need a makeover anyway. And the final driving point behind not trading for Upton in 2011?

He only has five more years before he hits free agency at the ripe age of 28!

Chalk this one up to doing due diligence on one of the game’s best young talents.