Cubs need an ace and Julio Urias could be one for years to come

Chicago Cubs v Los Angeles Dodgers
Chicago Cubs v Los Angeles Dodgers / Kevork Djansezian/GettyImages

Despite coming out on the wrong end of the decision against the Cubs on Sunday at Dodger Stadium, 26-year-old southpaw Julio Urias - at least for the majority of his start - showcased what's likely to make him one of this offseason's most sought-after free agents.

Chicago will have plenty of money to spend and, despite the leaps and strides the organization has made in terms of developing arms, still lack a proven ace (although both Marcus Stroman and Justin Steele have performed like one early on). Urias, given his age and track record in recent years, could make him a rare exception to the club's aversion to long-term, high-dollar contracts.

Since the start of the 2021 season, Urias has made 66 starts for Los Angeles, working to a 2.52 ERA, 0.982 WHIP and 4.70 K/BB in 378 2/3 innings of work. He's masterful at painting the corners, as we all saw in the early innings of the series finale this weekend. The wheels came off in the sixth when Patrick Wisdom and Cody Bellinger went back-to-back off him, but still, if a 'bad' start looks like 5 2/3 innings of three-run ball, you'll take that all day long.

Cubs will be major players in the free agent pitching market

If Stroman keeps pitching like he has late last year and early on in 2023, he'll undoubtedly exercise the opt-out in his deal and test free agency himself. The Cubs could position themselves for a lengthy window of contention by bringing him back and pairing him with Urias, Steele, Jameson Taillon and Hayden Wesneski in 2024.

The Dodgers may be more likely to let Urias walk given their anticipated pursuit of Shohei Ohtani this winter. Los Angeles, at least on paper, took a step back last winter, prioritizing getting under the CBT threshold to reset any potential penalties. After all, Ohtani figures to command a deal in the $50M AAV range, a sizable sum for any club to add to the books.

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Really, it's his age (not to mention his dominance the last couple years) that makes him a perfect fit for Chicago. Jed Hoyer is never going to go the Mets route and hand massive AAV deals to late-30s, early-40s pitchers. But he may very well do what it takes to bring in a 27-year-old entering his prime - and it could pay dividends for years to come.