As the Chicago Cubs limp down the stretch and barely cling to their postseason hopes, it's clear they still have work to do in the offseason. The team clearly lacks the quality depth to match the Dodgers or Braves, but they're extremely close to becoming one of the teams to watch in the National League. Free agency will offer the big pieces they need to climb into the ranks of baseball's elite.
The Cubs this offseason will have to address a lingering hole at third base while generally shoring up the lineup with a middle-of-the-order bat and adding another starting pitcher. A few upgrades in the bullpen would be nice too, but with Adbert Alzolay's success as the closer and the team's general success with cobbling together bullpens in recent years, they can probably get by without a major addition at the back end.
Let's look at three free agents they need to target and why they make sense for the team. Keep in mind, this isn't counting the team's own pending free agents for whom we previously discussed the benefits of re-signing.
1. Yoshinobu Yamamoto
Even if Marcus Stroman doesn't opt out after this year, 2023 proved once again that you can never have enough pitching in the organization. One more ace-level starting pitcher could elevate this team from good to elite and afford them plenty of flexibility with homegrown arms like Jordan Wicks and Javier Assad. This year offers no shortage of fantastic options from the presumptive Cy Young winner Blake Snell to Phillies ace Aaron Nola, but the Cubs have enough room to take a big swing and land Japanese superstar Yoshinobu Yamamoto.
Yamamoto is seen by experts as likely to make an immediate jump into the top end of an MLB rotation after a dominant run in Japan. Throughout seven seasons in NPB, he posted an elite 1.84 ERA while winning the Japanese Triple Crown, the Sawamura Award given to the league's best pitcher, and the Pacific League MVP award twice in a row in 2021 and 2022. When pitching in front of MLB executives from various teams, he dazzled again with a no-hitter, further proving himself as Japan's best pitcher.
A ton of teams are already expressing interest in signing Yamamoto including the Cubs. Jed Hoyer personally went to Japan to watch him pitch in preparation for his expected posting this offseason. Comparisons peg Yamamoto as similar to Masahiro Tanaka before he made the jump to the Yankees in 2014 and, like Tanaka, he's expected to demand a hefty payday that could reach over $200 million. Free agent rankings even predict he could be better and more sought-after than stars like Nola.
There's never a guarantee that a Japanese player's skills will translate to MLB, but given the sheer level of dominance Yamamoto has shown and the rare upside he shows, the Cubs should be deeply involved in landing him. A trio with him, Stroman, and Steele along with their glut of young pitchers would be a nightmare for other teams to face.