Jesse Rogers, ESPN Staff Writer 187d

Are the Cubs one pitcher short as they play free-agent waiting game?

CHICAGO -- As the Chicago Cubs gather for their annual fan convention this weekend, there’s a feeling they’ll be one player short.

They’re still in the mix for another starting pitcher, but the team -- and seemingly the league -- is in wait-and-see mode about dozens of still available free agents. It would be timely for the Cubs to unveil that final addition at the convention, but spring training is likely to begin with good players still on the market.

The Cubs could go to camp next month with a starting staff of Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, Tyler Chatwood and Mike Montgomery. It’s not bad but it’s also probably not deep enough, which is why Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish and Alex Cobb continue to hover in their airspace. However, the Cubs have been pretty clear in drawing a line in the sand when it comes to their commitment to free-agent arms this winter: They want guys on shorter-term deals. The waiting game has been perplexing for players.

“I was talking to some of the top-tier guys [pitchers],” Cubs new addition Steve Cishek said Thursday. “They’re a little confused, but they’re being patient, too. You have to be patient, but I think it will work out for them.”

Cishek said he has been in touch with Cobb as the two were teammates during the second half of last season in Tampa Bay.

“He’s enjoying it [the free-agent process], but it's moving a little slower than we all thought,” Cishek said.

Already, the Cubs have signed five free-agent pitchers to big league contracts, the second most for them since at least 1990, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Incidentally, they signed six free-agent pitchers in 2012. That came during their rebuilding phase when they simply needed bodies to fill spots. It’s a reminder that this is a unique offseason for a contender like the Cubs, who have so many holes that need filling. That’s one reason the team has employed a specific strategy in its signings.

Only Chatwood's deal is for as long as three years. The feeling is if the Cubs add at least one more year to their conversations with any of Darvish, Arrieta or Cobb, they could be had. That’s also essentially why they moved on from closer Wade Davis, whom the Cubs preferred to keep on a two-year deal, according to league sources. Davis signed for three years with the Colorado Rockies.

Either the Cubs have to come off their strict shorter-term strategy or the above pitchers are going to accept a shorter commitment than what they expected when they became free agents in November. Who will blink first?

There are (finally) some rumblings that front offices are starting to step up their offers for free agents, according to league sources. It remains to be seen if the Cubs will be one of those teams.

One player who could be rooting for a stalemate with free agents is Montgomery, who has made it clear he wants a starting gig.

“That’s been my goal and I’ve expressed that since day one,” Montgomery said during the winter meetings. “That’s my mindset right now. I’m at that point in my career where I want to be a full-time starter. I’ve proved that I’m capable of it.”

It might be up for debate whether Montgomery has actually shown he can take the ball and be effective for 32 starts. After all, he has never done it, but being the guy who goes back and forth between jobs also has prevented him from maxing out in either role. It’s one reason he wants to make the move to starter now.

“You have to be in charge of your career,” Montgomery said. “The last couple years, I’ve done everything they’ve asked. For me, it’s about now becoming a full-time starter.”

Like the Cubs, their free-agent pitching pursuits and the rest of baseball, Montgomery may not know until the eve of spring training if he’s their fifth starter or if the Cubs reel in a sixth free-agent pitcher. They’ve waited this long ... what’s one more month?

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