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Cubs have saved themselves cash by acting fast

The Cubs signed ex-TwScott Baker discount because he’s coming off Tommy John surgery. | Getty Images

The Cubs signed ex-Twin Scott Baker at a discount because he’s coming off Tommy John surgery. | Getty Images

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Updated: January 10, 2013 6:27AM



In their attempts to be the most thorough front office in baseball, Theo Epstein’s Cubs seem almost too deliberate at times as trade and free-agent targets go elsewhere in volatile markets.

But like they did with free agent David DeJesus and Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler more than a year ago, quick decisions and early efforts this winter have put the Cubs in a position of relative strength not even they expected at this point as they fill an abundance of holes.

Granted, it’s measured in terms of strength more relative to the 101-loss baseline they’re working on improving than to any of the better teams in the National League.

Nonetheless, quick action on free-agent starters Scott Baker and Scott Feldman and early, persistent work on Japanese reliever Kyuji Fujikawa allowed the Cubs to fill some of their most significant needs in a market that went sideways when a flurry of non-tendered players became available as the winter meetings opened last week.

‘‘Looking at the offseason now — certainly we’re not even halfway yet — we’re really glad we went in right away and added two starters in Baker and Feldman,’’ general manager Jed Hoyer said. ‘‘Given the way the market’s acted since, I feel that was a wise move to get those guys done.’’

The Cubs signed both to one-year deals worth a combined $11.5 million — less than the commitments required since then to sign Joe Blanton (two years, $15 million) and Cubs targets Brandon McCarthy (two years, $15.5 million) and Dan Haren (one year, $13 million).

Of course, Baker is discounted because he missed last season after having Tommy John surgery. But McCarthy (recovered from skull fractures caused by a line drive) and Haren (back and hip problems) potentially present bigger risks.

In Fujikawa, the Cubs have a projected replacement for closer Carlos Marmol. He could be a bargain at $4 million each of the next two seasons if his exceptional command and fastball-first approach translate to the majors the way the Cubs believe they will.

These aren’t the Josh Hamiltons and Zack Greinkes, whom baseball’s deep divers are going after. But the fact that those two — a recovering drug addict and a pitcher diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, respectively — headline the free-agent market underscores its off-kilter nature.

With anticipated new TV money raising every team’s bidding ability, the market took off in absurd directions once the winter meetings opened. It yielded contracts for players such as Angel Pagan (four years, $40 million) and career utilityman Jeff Keppinger (three years, $12 million) that would have seemed silly to many mere weeks earlier.

Those same market forces made non-tendered third baseman Ian Stewart suddenly look like a value buy at $2 million (plus $500,000 in incentives) less than a week after perhaps $2.3 million could have prevented his non-tender in the first place.

‘‘We’ll continue to try to add depth. We’re certainly not done,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘But we certainly feel better about where we are.’’

The Cubs have added to every area of need already, with starting pitching depth the remaining priority. They also would like to add another outfielder, a right-handed-hitting infielder who can play some third base and another reliever or two.

But two starters, a back-end reliever, Stewart, right fielder Nate Schierholtz and backup catcher Dioner Navarro already have been added — all for under $22 million on the 2013 payroll.

It might not buy a pennant next year. But to the Cubs’ brass, it has bought at least a little peace of mind for the next two months of roster work, particularly when it comes to pitching.

‘‘We’ll still continue to try to add [pitching],’’ Hoyer said, ‘‘but we have the ability to be a little more discerning now because we added two [starters] we wanted right away.’’



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