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Cubs pursuing former White Sox righty Brandon McCarthy, Shaun Marcum

OaklAthletics pitcher BrandMcCarthy who is scheduled pitch opening game against Seattle Mariners March 28 speaks during press conference after practice

Oakland Athletics pitcher Brandon McCarthy, who is scheduled to pitch on the opening game against the Seattle Mariners March 28, speaks during a press conference after a practice session at the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo on March 27, 2012. The Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics are here ahead of the opening two-game series of the 2012 major league season, March 28-29. AFP PHOTO / KAZUHIRO NOGI (Photo credit should read KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/GettyImages)

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Updated: December 8, 2012 6:45AM



PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — The traditional shotgun start of baseball’s offseason, with this week’s general managers meetings at the famed Indian Wells Resort, promises intrigue and hope for fans of most teams seeking would-be playoff parts.

The Cubs, not so much. And, just like last year, they’re not trying to fool anyone.

The Cubs have more than $50 million in estimated payroll freedom through expired contracts, but it won’t show up in their shopping habits during talks at these GM meetings, next month’s winter meetings or any other time this winter.

Their target market is simple: maybe a buy-low guy coming off an injury or a bargain guy with tools looking for a rebound season — somebody who can be flipped at the trade deadline for valuable young prospects if the Cubs are out of it.

‘‘I think the contracts we signed last winter are a good model,’’ Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said of free-agent acquisitions Paul Maholm and David DeJesus.

Both were hampered by nagging injuries in 2011 and rebounded on modest, short-term contracts in 2012.

That isn’t counting the trade for wrist-challenged third baseman Ian Stewart, who turned out to be a whiff.

‘‘I think we have a chance to maybe sign more of those this year with a little bit more money to spend,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘We might be able to sign more contracts like that or maybe even a little larger than last year, but I think it’s a good model of contract that really served us well.’’

Maholm, the left-hander dealt to the Braves at the trade deadline, was signed for one year plus an option. DeJesus got two guaranteed years.

With starting pitching the Cubs’ primary focus again this winter, they already have expressed interest in Athletics right-hander Brandon McCarthy, who was having a good season until suffering a skull fracture when hit by a line drive in September. He underwent surgery and didn’t pitch again this season but appears to be healthy enough for a comeback effort in 2013.

Brewers free agent Shaun Marcum, a 2009 Tommy John surgery graduate who missed two months in 2012 with elbow tightness, is another buy-low candidate the Cubs are eyeing — and a guy whose character they know well through manager Dale Sveum and pitching coach Chris Bosio.

Marcum came back to finish a not-terrible 2-1 with a 4.32 ERA in seven starts down the stretch in ’12.

‘‘There’s probably a lot more demand for starting pitching than there is supply, so we’ll probably have to be creative,’’ Cubs president Theo Epstein said even before Friday’s near-miss on the Dan Haren-for-Carlos Marmol trade talks with the Angels.

Haren, now a free agent, was hampered last season by lower-back problems that appear to be at the center of why that trade fell apart.

But if he comes cheap enough, he could yet be an option.

Head questions. Elbow issues. Back problems.

The new normal for the Cubs?

It seems to be for now at least.

What’s certain is there’s no $50 million cavalry on the way in 2013 to rescue the victims of that 101-loss season.

Sox rumblings

Word is A.J. Pierzynski is telling people he’s not returning to the White Sox and expects to sign elsewhere as a free agent.

It’s not a surprise after the Sox declined to make him a qualifying offer and have heir apparent Tyler Flowers already all but installed as the starter. Also, the durable Pierzynski can cash in on the best offensive season of his career, even as he nears his 36th birthday.



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