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Cubs add reliever Steve Cishek, still seek starter as meetings wrap up

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Working the phones? The Cubs left the Winter Meetings on Thursday looking more like they were working on a new Hallmark Channel movie: ‘‘A Starter for Christmas.’’

‘‘Families won’t be happy with executives if the next 10 days aren’t really busy,’’ Cubs president Theo Epstein said, ‘‘because Christmas could be threatened.’’

And if the Cubs and other teams don’t start signing more players in time for them to know by then where they’re headed next season?

‘‘We’re all going to get coal in our stockings,’’ Epstein said.

The Cubs and Steve Cishek agreed to a two-year deal.

The Cubs got bullpen business done during the meetings this week, including a two-year agreement Thursday with sidearming right-hander Steve Cishek. The deal, pending a physical, reportedly pays $12 million to $14 million.

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Cishek, 31, joins a late-inning crew that got a boost early in the week with the two-year, $21 million signing of right-hander Brandon Morrow, the ace setup man for the Dodgers last season.

The Cubs aren’t done with their bullpen redesign, and a reunion with free-agent closer Wade Davis isn’t out of the question. The Cubs have maintained contact with Davis despite their slimmer wallet.

But it’s the Cubs’ effort to acquire one more starter in a slow-moving market that bears watching next. As of late Thursday, the biggest free-agent contract for a starting pitcher this offseason was still right-hander Tyler Chatwood’s three-year, $38 million deal with the Cubs.

‘‘That won’t last long,’’ Epstein predicted.

The Cubs long have had their eye on Rays free-agent right-hander Alex Cobb, who publicly has expressed an affinity for the team and new pitching coach Jim Hickey. Hickey is the only big-league pitching coach Cobb has known.

But sources say Cobb’s asking price, thought to be about $20 million per year, has lowered the temperature on the Cubs’ desire for a pitcher with an injury history and a career high of 179 1/3 innings.

Depending on whether the Cubs decide to spend on a bigger late-inning reliever, such as Davis, they increasingly might turn their
attention to potential trades.

‘‘I think we’ve talked to every team since we’ve been here,’’ Epstein said Wednesday.

But most free-agent starters are still available, and that seems to be the preferred route.

‘‘The starter market’s a little slower to develop, seemingly, both in free agency and trades,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘So we’re going to be patient.’’

That has a chance to change quickly now that teams have left the meetings with satchels full of new information and price points on players.

‘‘You have to be really well-prepared leaving here and know what the market is and what guys want,’’ general manager Jed Hoyer said, noting the later schedule for the meetings this year leaves less time between them and the holidays. ‘‘You know that 10 days [after the meetings] is going to be unbelievably active because guys want to know where they’re going for Christmas.’’

NOTES: Right-hander Steve Cishek, who had a 2.01 ERA in 49 appearances for the Mariners and Rays last season, had 25 saves for the Mariners in 2016. He had 34 and 39 saves for the Marlins in 2013 and 2014. Despite a recent dip in velocity, his splits against right-handers remained especially strong.

• The Cubs didn’t select any players in the major-league portion of the Rule 5 draft, but they lost Class A right-hander Pedro Araujo to the Orioles. A selected player must stick on the big-league roster all season or be offered back to the original club for a fraction of the $100,000 drafting fee.



What the Cubs’ projected bullpen looks like after three free agent acquisitions this offseason (*), with more moves still possible (with 2017 performances):

  • *RHP Brandon Morrow (45 G, 2.06 ERA, 2 saves)
  • *RHP Steve Cishek (49, 2.01, 1)
  • RHP Carl Edwards Jr. (73, 2.98, 0)
  • RHP Pedro Strop (69, 2.83, 0)
  • RHP Justin Grimm (50, 5.53, 1)
  • LHP Mike Montgomery (44, 3.38, 3)
  • LHP Justin Wilson (65, 3.41, 13)
  • *LHP Dario Alvarez (20, 2.76, 0)

Note: Montgomery made 14 starts among his 44 appearances.

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Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com