The 2023 postseason is upon us and, for another year, the Chicago Cubs are on the outside looking in. It's a frustrating end to a season where, at one point, they were up four games in the second wild card and had a 92% chance to make the playoffs per FanGraphs. President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer rightly characterized it as a failure albeit one with positive signs for the future.
This is the year for the Cubs to get aggressive in the offseason to ensure they don't fall short yet again. If 2023 was the bridge from the rebuild, 2024 should be their first real year of contention. One place they can look to for help is the teams that actually made it to the dance. A number of players on playoff rosters are due for free agency after the World Series and there are more than a few that would make good fits on the North side.
Let's take a look at three players in the postseason the Cubs should be watching closely. Specifically, I want to highlight a hitter, starter, and reliever that would be the perfect pieces to put this team over the edge.
Starter: RHP Aaron Nola
The Cubs are likely to keep much of their rotation intact from 2023. Marcus Stroman is no longer expected to opt out and Kyle Hendricks's option is a lock to be exercised, leaving one open spot alongside Justin Steele and Jameson Taillon. While they have promising young arms like Jordan Wicks and Javier Assad who surprised in the rotation, this season proved that you can never have enough depth. Instead, that final spot should be filled with another ace-like Phillies star Aaron Nola.
Nola had a down year by his standards with a 4.46 ERA, but he coupled that with an expected ERA of 3.74 and a 4.05 FIP. The peripherals are a little worrying though. Most everything about Nola's game declined from last year's heights. His strikeout percentage was lower at 25.5%, his hard hit rate was higher at 38.5% he gave up home runs at by far a career-high 1.49 HR/9, and his usually-dominant sinker was hit at a .279 clip. It's enough to be one of the righty's worst seasons yet.
To this point in his career, however, Nola has been dominant in just about every season he's pitched. He owns a lifetime 3.76 ERA and 3.38 FIP and posts at or around 200 innings a season. That combination of durability and quality is something the Cubs sorely need. That's not to say there aren't questions - he's never relied on velocity and, approaching 30, there is some trepidation about how well he'll hold up. He's bounced back from down years before though and the Cubs are in a position to take a few risks. A bad year coupled with a flooded starter's market could mean a lower price tag too.