Top stars could be avail­able on trade mar­ket

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Ron­ald Blum

Detroit Tigers ace Justin Ver­lan­der and slug­ger Miguel Cabr­era could be avail­able for the right price. The Chicago White Sox might be pre­pared to deal Chris Sale, too.

Not even a week has passed since the Chicago Cubs won their first World Se­ries ti­tle in more than a cen­tury, and teams al­ready are in­volved in trade talk as they po­si­tion them­selves for 2017 and be­yond.

“The con­ver­sa­tions this year with GMs started ear­lier and had more sub­stance to them than I re­call in the past,” Philadel­phia gen­eral man­ager Matt Klen­tak said at the GMs’ an­nual meet­ing.

A weak free-agent mar­ket at many po­si­tions has driven deal di­a­logue. Frus­trated they have not won the World Se­ries since 1984 de­spite a pay­roll that is among base­ball’s high­est, the Tigers sound ready to em­bark on a re­build.

“We have an open mind to lis­ten on any player on our ros­ter,” gen­eral man­ager Al Avila said. “We’re go­ing to try to make this or­ga­ni­za­tion good for the long run, not the short run. We’re look­ing at it as all-in for the long haul. And so the tran­si­tion, that first step, might be a lit­tle bit tough here.”

A six-time All-Star righthander who turns 34 in Fe­bru­ary, Ver­lan­der went 16-9 with a 3.04 ERA this year in his best sea­son since 2012. He is owed $28 mil­lion in each of the next three sea­sons.

Cabr­era, an 11-time Al­lS­tar who plays mostly first base th­ese days, turns 34 in April. He will be paid $28 mil­lion next year, $30 mil­lion in each of the fol­low­ing four sea­sons and $32 mil­lion an­nu­ally in 2022 and ‘23.

Detroit’s pay­roll was about $199 mil­lion this year, trail­ing only the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yan­kees and Bos­ton, and the Tigers likely will pay a lux­ury tax of just un­der $4 mil­lion.

An 86-75 record, eight games be­hind AL Cen­tral cham­pion Cleve­land, prompted Detroit to re­con­sider its meth­ods.

“If any­body thinks that you just can con­tinue to add and add, where does the pay­roll get to?” Avila said.

On the South Side of Chicago, the White Sox sprinted to a 23-10 start, cre­at­ing vi­sions of a Windy City World Se­ries against the Cubs, then sank to a 7884 record.

Af­ter win­ning the 2005 ti­tle, the White Sox have not even reached the play­offs since 2008.

Sale, a left-han­der who turns 27 in March, was an All-Star in each of the last five sea­sons and has a con­tract that pays him $12 mil­lion next year and in­cludes club op­tions at $12.5 mil­lion for 2018 and $15 mil­lion for 2019.

White Sox GM Rick Hahn said other teams ask him about Sale, but Hahn also dis­cusses the fu­ture with owner Jerry Reins­dorf and ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent Kenny Wil­liams.

“I think our goal is to put our­selves in a po­si­tion to win on a sus­tain­able ba­sis,” Hahn said. “We’ve been fo­cused on a short-term ben­e­fit. We’ve got­ten to the point when we have had our con­ver­sa­tions in­ter­nally with Jerry and Kenny where we re­al­ize a bet­ter po­si­tion for the long term is a more pru­dent path.”

Given the ten­dency of base­ball ex­ec­u­tives to fol­low the leader, they seek to mimic the Cubs. Seeking its first ti­tle since 1908, Chicago hired Theo Ep­stein as pres­i­dent of base­ball op­er­a­tions and Jed Hoyer as GM af­ter the team went 7191 in 2011.

As they over­hauled the ros­ter, the Cubs lost 101 games the fol­low­ing year, 96 in 2013 and 89 in 2014. As top draft picks reached the ma­jor league team, the Cubs added free agents dur­ing the past two off­sea­sons and won 97 games in 2015 and a big league-high 103 this year, when they beat Cleve­land in a seven-game World Se­ries.

“Any time you’re trad­ing away re­ally good vet­er­ans like that, you’re set­ting your­self up for some re­ally long sum­mers,” Hoyer cau­tioned. “The mes­sag­ing in your club­house is re­ally dif­fi­cult. The mes­sag­ing to your fan base is re­ally dif­fi­cult. Fans grow to like play­ers on their team, and when you trade away the guy whose jersey they just got for Christ­mas or you trade away a guy’s friend and men­tor in the club­house, who­ever that might be, that’s hard mes­sag­ing.”

Go­ing young, build­ing a core group and then adding vet­er­ans in or­der to peak with a ti­tle is the goal. But mak­ing the right de­ci­sions on draft picks and swaps is the hard part.

“The idea that you rip the Band-Aid off, be bad for a cou­ple of years, make some trades and al­ways end up on the pos­i­tive side, I don’t think that’s re­al­is­tic,” Hoyer said.

Avila, who took over as Detroit’s GM when Dave Dom­browski was fired in Au­gust 2015, re­mem­bered when he was the Mar­lins’ di­rec­tor of Latin Amer­i­can op­er­a­tions un­der Dom­browski. Af­ter win­ning the 1997 World Se­ries, Florida jet­ti­soned vet­er­ans such as Kevin Brown, Al Leiter and Moises Alou un­der the or­ders of owner H. Wayne Huizenga, who was in the process of sell­ing the fran­chise.

“That was a fire sale,” Avila said. “This is not a fire sale. This is a change of phi­los­o­phy.”

PAUL SANCYA — AP FILE

Tigers’ slug­ger Miguel Cabr­era is one of sev­eral stars that could be avail­able on the trade mar­ket.

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