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Cubs should be aided in trade talks by close playoff races

Steve Clevenger can’t handle throw as Cody Ransom slides inhome during Brewers’ 8-0 victory. | Morry Gash~AP

Steve Clevenger can’t handle the throw as Cody Ransom slides into home during the Brewers’ 8-0 victory. | Morry Gash~AP

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Updated: July 8, 2012 7:01PM

MILWAUKEE — If Cubs manager Dale Sveum thought making things work with his roster the first two months was tough, wait till the front office gets done with the roster over the next two.

Now that this week’s draft is complete, general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday he expects the Cubs to be active in what could be an exceptional seller’s trade market leading up to the July 31 trade deadline.

“We’ve already started talking to teams,’’ said Hoyer, a few hours before Zack Greinke and the Milwaukee Brewers sent the Cubs to their 17th defeat in 21 games, this time 8-0.

“Teams work on somewhat dual tracks this time of year, but even in the [next] couple days I think those calls will pick up. … Saying we’re turning our attention sounds like we weren’t paying attention before, but that’s where the focus is going to be now.’’

As one of the few teams nowhere near the scent of a division or wild-card race, the Cubs not only stand to gain an elite draft position next June but also are in position to take advantage of what could be one of the strongest seller’s markets in recent memory.

Only seven teams entered play Wednesday more than 6 ½ games out of first place. And with the addition of a wild-card playoff berth in each league this year, only four weren’t within seven games of a potential playoff position.

“We’ll see how it looks in six weeks, but right now there’s not a lot of [sellers],’’ Hoyer said. “That’ll shake out a little bit over the next six to eight weeks, and as it does, teams will get more active. A lot of teams are probably in a wait-and-see mode, and will see how the next month or so works out. We’ll be on the phones.’’

That’s almost certain to mean moving this year’s best starting pitcher, Ryan Dempster, who’s in the final year of his contract — and who recently reiterated what he told the Sun-Times two weeks ago about considering his no-trade rights when and if the front office takes a trade proposal to him. He’s not expected to hold up a trade to a contender.

Dempster said after his win Tuesday night he’s trying to keep his mind only on pitching but knows what’s coming over the next few weeks. “It’s just reality, right?’’ he said.

He also seems open to returning as a free agent next winter if he’s traded this fall.

Beyond that, almost anybody on the roster is a trade candidate, with the firm exceptions of pitcher Jeff Samardzija and Starlin Castro and the probable exception of pitcher Matt Garza.

Hoyer elaborated on the comments made last week by team president Theo Epstein shooting down a report that the Cubs were willing to trade Castro.

“He’s a huge part of our plans,’’ Hoyer said. “He’s a shortstop that can hit and can run. He’s getting better defensively. Those are hard to find. You look around baseball and almost every time we play another team, we have the better shortstop on the field, and that’s a great feeling to have.’’

As for the mental lapses that reared again Friday on the bases and Sunday in the field, Hoyer said that’s an unrelated issue, and it’s not, at least now, a factor in the team’s thinking about Castro as a building block.

“We do have to address those things,’’ Hoyer said, “and Dale has really struck a perfect tone now with Starlin: ‘I like you. I get it. But it’s going to have to stop.’ And that’s a big part of why we hired Dale. He can strike that balance.

“I don’t think Starlin resents him for it. Starlin understands. Maybe that was a good thing to happen in the long run. I’m hopeful that’s the case.’’

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