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Cubs in talks with Jon Lester, Russell Martin

PHOENIX — The Cubs might not leave the Arizona Biltmore with a $100 million pitcher by the time the general managers meetings wrap up Thursday.

But all that green agents see sticking out of Cubs officials’ bulging wallets for the first time in four winters has made the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer villa at the Biltmore a destination spot as the GM meetings opened Monday.

“It’s probably the first time agents can come into our suite without having to look both ways to make sure no one sees them coming in,” team president Epstein said. “We’re no longer the runt of the litter, I guess.”

One New York tabloid went so far as to predict the Cubs would land the top two free-agent pitchers, Max Scherzer of the Tigers and Jon Lester of the Athletics, in deals expected to total more than $300 million — eliciting snickers from Cubs people.

Epstein stressed the Cubs’ flexibility — much of it created by socking away savings from last season’s budget — is being viewed as a resource for the next 15 months, as opposed to 15 weeks.

That said, the Cubs have been active in early talks with some of their top targets, including Lester and Pirates free-agent catcher Russell Martin.

Martin comes with the added cost of second-round draft-pick compensation. All 12 players who received qualifying offers from their teams declined the offers to become free agents, including Yankees closer David Robertson, another Cubs target.

Epstein dampened some of the expectations that the Cubs might add a top-end reliever to a bullpen that was one of their few strengths in 2014.

“I don’t know if we’re going to do anything of significance or not,” he said. “We may.”

Yankees GM Brian Cashman, for instance, said again Monday that he hopes to bring Robertson back.

The agent for starter Jason Hammel, who was one of the Cubs’ top starters before being traded to the A’s on July 4, said that the Cubs’ interest in Hammel is mutual. Hammel has made it clear since the trade that he would welcome the chance to return.

Agent Alan Nero said the years being offered this time around will play a big role in Hammel’s decision, and a dozen teams are said to be showing interest.

The Cubs also are getting more calls from teams regarding possible trades this winter, Epstein said.

Despite being linked to Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels since an August waiver claim that went nowhere, the Cubs don’t seem likely to deal for Hamels — in part because of a $90 million price tag for the next four years and in larger part because of the Phillies’ high asking price in prospects.

“We’re definitely open to making trades,” Epstein said. “Trades, while seemingly more painful at the time because you have to give up talent instead of just money, in the long run can actually work out better. So the obvious move would be to hold on to all your talent and just use money to sign free agents. And that will probably be our primary approach over the next 15 months.”


Twitter: @GDubCub