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Forget Verlander; Cubs instead working on trade for veteran catcher

The Cubs appear close to striking again with a trade before the non-waiver deadline Monday.

But don’t expect to see Justin Verlander or Jonathan Lucroy in a Cubs uniform anytime soon, insiders said, despite persistent rumors.

Landing a veteran backup catcher who can handle the team’s nuanced game plans and veteran pitchers has become a primary focus for a team positioning itself for another November run.

And if they add a pitcher, it’s more likely to be a reliever, sources say.

Cubs GM Jed Hoyer and manager Joe Maddon.

The Cubs have explored catching possibilities among the trailers in the National League East, with defensive-minded A.J. Ellis of the sell-everything Marlins the most natural fit.

The Cubs have had serious recent talks with teams regarding as many as four targets, but multiple sources said the top catcher on the market, former All-Star Lucroy of the Rangers, is not one at this point.

One major strike against such a deal: the perception that an All-Star-caliber starter in a free-agent walk year will not be satisfied as Willson Contreras’ backup.

The other available catcher most often linked to the Cubs, the Tigers’ Alex Avila, also is not considered a strong fit, said one source.

Meanwhile, the day after saying Victor Caratini would be better served playing every day in the minors, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said the rookie catcher will start Wednesday night to give Contreras a rare day off.

The Cubs’ catching corps got very young very fast when veteran Miguel Montero was jettisoned last month after making critical comments about teammate Jake Arrieta. That was Caratini’s first day in the majors, and the Cubs have leaned hard on Contreras since.

When asked before Tuesday’s 7-2 victory over the White Sox how close the club was to making another trade, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said, “We’re still in that process.

“A lot of it, this time of the year, is about timing. Unless a team prioritizes moving [players] early, then usually things aren’t going to happen for another four or five days.

“We’re kind of sorting that out. We’ve got a lot of hooks in the water.”

The Cubs remain active in the pitching market, too.

Hoyer wouldn’t talk about any of the rumors circulating.

But more than one source dismissed the breathless-sounding reports that the Cubs are pursuing Verlander.

One major-league source said the aggressively shopped Verlander is “intriguing” to a lot of teams because of the name and the Tigers’ motivation to move him. And a Cubs insider suggested the club always keeps an open mind to possible changes in any scenario — but that the chances are remote at best.

Another Cubs source scoffed at the idea of adding Verlander.

Even with the means to make it fit payroll, the Cubs have trouble rationalizing taking on a 34-year-old pitcher with a lot of heavy miles and a 2½-year commitment of close to $67 million — potentially pushing $89 million for 3½ years if a vesting option were to kick in.

And this: Since the Jose Quintana trade, the need is less pressing. Especially with 2016 ERA champ Kyle Hendricks back from the disabled list, and John Lackey pitching well enough in two victories since the break (three runs, 10 innings).

“What we need is right here,” Maddon said when asked about adding a starter. “The guys have been trending in the right direction.”

If anything, the Cubs are casting a wide net for proven bullpen help, with a relief arm second to catching on the list of likely additions at the deadline — and likely much closer to the closing bell if they can pull it off.

“It’s always nice to have the better bullpen arms,” Maddon said, before getting four scoreless innings from his pen Tuesday. “But I like our bullpen a lot, and I don’t think they’ve been overworked.

“You’re always looking to make your team better. Always. That’s what the GM and the president does. But I like our guys.”

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

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