Cubs inching closer to landing Russell Martin

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PHOENIX — As most of the business at the general managers meetings wrapped up Wednesday, the Cubs looked like even stronger favorites to land top position-player target Russell Martin, possibly by the end of the month.

The Cubs are among four teams linked to the free-agent catcher. But the other potential big-spending team in that mix, the Los Angeles Dodgers, doesn’t share as much mutual interest with Martin as some reports suggest, an industry source close to the situation said.

And one day after Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said, “We’re going to push as far as we feel we can,” he seemed to raise a white flag by trading for New York Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli.

Even on Tuesday, Huntington didn’t sound optimistic about being able to hold onto a veteran clubhouse leader whose arrival two winters ago helped spark back-to-back playoff appearances after a two-decade drought in Pittsburgh.

“Definitely he’s been everything we could have hoped [for] and then some,” Huntington said. “The leadership, the impact on our pitching staff has been everything we hoped it [would be] when we signed him two years ago.

“Yeah, the loss will hurt. As good teams do when they lose a key player, they regroup, they backfill and reallocate. And we’ll do that.”

The Toronto Blue Jays are the fourth team linked to Martin, as they are to almost every Canadian player who becomes a free agent.

Martin, who turns 32 in February, could be in the market for a deal somewhere in the range of the four-year, $68 million agreement the Tigers reportedly reached with Victor Martinez, who turns 36 next month — though the players are not considered market comparables by executives at the meetings.

Cubs president Theo Epstein, whose front-office team had begun talks with Martin and other top targets well ahead of the meetings, said he remained unsure of timelines for some of the Cubs’ winter plans.

“Certain things have progressed, gone from general discussions to specific discussions, or gotten a little bit more clarity,” he said. “We’ve talked internally about certain limits that we have, lengths that we’d be willing to go and ­expressed that. And gotten feedback from the other side.

“But nothing’s fundamentally changed from where we were a couple of days ago.”

If anything has changed, it’s that the industry perception of the Cubs being the biggest players in the hot-stove season has only grown this week among rival executives and agents.

They are among six teams linked to Jon Lester and appear to be among the top two possibilities, especially with the Yankees out of the picture on Lester, according to a source with knowledge of the team’s plans. They also are in on several other free-agent pitchers and looking at multiple trade ­possibilities to land a starter.

Agent Scott Boras, who represents Tigers free-agent pitcher Max Scherzer, mentioned the recent report in a business publication valuing the franchise’s worth at more than $2 billion, the hiring of $25 million manager Joe Maddon and the front office’s stated willingness to spend.

“They’re making moves that are designed to help the team be competitive now,” he said. “If any fan base deserves a ‘now’ and not a ‘tomorrow,’ I’d say it’s the ­Chicago Cubs, and they’ve said they’re ­going to do that.”

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