As we prepare ourselves for the moves the Cubs could make this winter, perhaps the biggest question of all that need answering is: who will be the ace for this team moving forward?
Over the past couple years, the Chicago fron office has often mentioned a plan centered around "spending intelligently". This has been defined as a move that can be beneficial in the short-term, without causing long-term pain. For a Cubs team in dire need of a proven ace in 2023, a move that could pay off in spades in the short-term and lacks any real long-term risk is a pursuit of likely AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander.
I totally get if this idea scares you a bit. The guy turns 40 in February - that's true. However, there is little doubt after this year that he has plenty left in the tank. Verlander just capped off a 2022 campaign with an MLB-league leading 1.75 ERA to go along with an 18-4 record and 185 punchouts in 175 innings of work. He is just about as much of a lock for the American League Cy Young Award as it gets. Oh, and let's not forget - he finally added that long-awaited World Series title to his resume. He did all this after missing all of 2021 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, too.
Prior to the surgery, Verlander, a nine-time All-Star, two-time (for now) Cy Young winner, former MVP and Rookie of the Year, only had the one start in 2020 before the injury. The veteran right-hander has posted an ERA in the 2.00s four different times, aside from his 1.75 mark this year, and has reached the 200 innings plateau on 12 seperate occasions. He has been a workhorse, to say the very least, and with his production this season it seems like there isn't much to worry about moving forward. At least to this point, there's been zero sign of decline from Verlander.
Cubs need an ace and Justin Verlander fits the bill perfectly
Age is more of a factor for Verlander than it is for the Cubs. At age 40, Verlander is unlikely to land any type of long-term deal. That gives Chicago a perfect opportunity to force its way into the picture. They have the high-dollar resources to offer Verlander a two or three-year deal with a high AAV. Of course, all this assumes he'll opt out of his option For 2023, he does have a player option worth $25 million, but given the season he just had, it's safe to say he can command at least two years on a new deal somewhere. I feel Verlander is selling himself short if he were to opt in to that option. After all, his days of being able to command high-dollar deals are waning.
As we know, with the 'spending' piece comes the 'intelligent' aspect - and a Verlander deal checks that box. Having him in tow, filling that ace role for the next 2-3 years and not being locked into anything crazy long-term is exactly what the Cubs are looking for. There aren't many ace-caliber arms out there that will be signing deals on the shorter side. Given Verlander's career year this season, if he becomes a free agent, the Cubs must push all their chips in on him. Since 2018, Verlander is 56-19 with a 2.33 ERA, 2.90 FIP and an 11.4 K/9. He is essentially the Tom Brady of starting pitchers.
Of course, the Cubs can only hope he opts out. I don't see a scenario where a team isn't OK with signing him for at least two years at an absolute minimum of that $25 million mark he'd have passed on in his option, if not more. For a Chicago Cubs fanbase that just had to endure two grueling years in terms of standings in the NL Central, this winter should be an exciting one.