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Major moves by the Cubs spur spike in expectations

SAN DIEGO — The Cubs left the winter meetings Thursday with their biggest haul in eight years, already assuring the kind of spring-training buzz they haven’t seen since the last time they had an ex-Rays manager running things and talking about a World Series.

“They’re certainly going to be a lot better than they were last year,” Cincinnati Reds general manager Walt Jocketty told Reds beat writers after the Cubs committed $215 million to land catcher Miguel Montero via trade and starters Jon Lester and Jason Hammel via free agency.

“They certainly have their foot on the pedal,” St. Louis Cardinals GM John Mozeliak told Cards ­writers.

“[Lester] is still one of the elite pitchers in the game,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “He makes them better in a lot of different ways, and not just with that, but [also] when he gets in the clubhouse.”

The Cubs know they got ­baseball’s attention this week — especially in the National League Central.

But they don’t want to hear it. Not in December.

“We haven’t accomplished anything,” said general manager Jed Hoyer, who’s assembling a team for the first time in three years that the Cubs don’t plan to blow up at the trade deadline — a team they hope will at the very least end a streak of five consecutive losing, fifth-place finishes.

But, Hoyer said, “We still have a lot of work to do. This is a busy week. We leave here with some irons in the fire, both trade-wise and free-agent-wise. We’re probably in the fourth or fifth inning of the offseason now.”

And winning the winter meetings doesn’t count in the standings.

“We don’t get anything out of people talking about us in the winter or anything like that,” he said. “We played really well at the end of the year. We got some of those young kids up in the big leagues, and there’s more to come behind those guys. It was more fun in September to listen to people talk about, ‘These series are difficult,’ or ‘These kids are making our life hard.’ That’s a lot more gratifying than having people talk about that here.

“We always talk about [how] winning the offseason might be a huge curse.”

They have enough of those already. So they’ll take their new $155 million ace, their new All-Star catcher and their old friend Hammel and try in the coming weeks to pull off deals that probably will be less splashy but — they hope — buzz-worthy the next few years.

“We have a lot more holes to fill,” Hoyer said. “If you stay active and stay involved, sometimes things happen later in the offseason that you might not have expected, whether it’s a free agent that fell through the cracks or whether it’s a trade that happens because ­another free agent was signed.”

Hoyer wouldn’t disclose any of the specific players the Cubs are looking to acquire or trade. But sources during the week said the Phillies are one of several teams that have asked about left-hander Travis Wood and could be a match for catcher Welington Castillo. The Cubs like lefty-hitting Phils outfielder Ben Revere.

The Cubs also have Lester’s old Red Sox catcher, David Ross, in the background as a likely target if they find a strong enough market for Castillo. Another former Red Sox player, outfielder Jonny Gomes, has long been discussed as a free-agent target, in part for his clubhouse ­influence.

Hoyer and team president Theo Epstein also would like to add bullpen help and another starting pitcher for depth and potential short-term upside (think flip guy who could stick around for a year). One of their targets in that area, Justin Masterson, was snatched off the market by the Red Sox on Thursday for a one-year, $9.5 ­million price that a lot of ­baseball people at the meetings felt was surprisingly high.

“There’s a long way to go,” ­Hoyer said.