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