A potential 2024 Cubs free agent target could be coming off the board early

The Philadelphia Phillies are prioritizing an extension with their ace after missing out on Yoshinobu Yamamoto in free agency.

New York Mets v Philadelphia Phillies
New York Mets v Philadelphia Phillies / Rich Schultz/GettyImages

To this point, the Chicago Cubs have been relegated to the sidelines while other large market teams have nabbed the top free agent starting pitchers. Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto joined forces in Los Angeles, along with Tyler Glasnow, while Aaron Nola re-upped with the team that drafted him, the Philadelphia Phillies.

With the team only tenuously connected to Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery, it feels like it's either going to be a mid-rotation upgrade in free agency or, perhaps, a trade for someone like Shane Bieber. This time next year, the Cubs might have a better idea what they have in top pitching prospects Cade Horton and Ben Brown, potentially putting them on more solid footing when assessing the free agent market.

But if the Phillies have anything to say about it, Zack Wheeler won't be among the starting pitchers on the open market next winter. The team is prioritizing an extension with the right-hander, who is entering the final year of his five-year, $118 million deal.

"Besides relatively modest upgrades, sources said the No. 1 priority is signing ace Zack Wheeler to a contract extension. It is something they always planned to pursue, even if they got lucky enough to sign Yamamoto."

Todd Zelecki, MLB.com

Cubs could use someone like Zack Wheeler atop the starting rotation

Wheeler, 33, could be an intriguing option on the free agent market next winter. His age would almost certainly work against him in any efforts of landing a long-term deal (he'll pitch the 2024 season at age 34) - and his best bet at landing guaranteed money could be by extending his stay in Philly.

Last season, Wheeler finished sixth in NL Cy Young voting, right behind Cubs ace Justin Steele, pitching to a 3.15 FIP and 1.078 WHIP in 192 innings of work. He followed up his standout regular season performance with a dazzling October - another key piece of his resume (2.42 career postseason ERA).

With Nola locked up for the long haul, an extension with Wheeler would allow the Phillies to keep their big 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation together for the foreseeable future. When Dave Dombrowski sets his sights on something like this, he's come through time and time again. So don't be surprised if we get something official in the weeks to come and a potential Cubs free agent target for next offseason comes off the board before they even had a chance to make their pitch.