Cubs Rumors: Free agent starting pitching market starting to move?

New reports offer updates on potential free agent destinations for two of the biggest names available - and an intriguing trade chip is tied to a perennial contender.

Wild Card Series - Miami Marlins v Philadelphia Phillies - Game Two
Wild Card Series - Miami Marlins v Philadelphia Phillies - Game Two / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages

Marcus Stroman opting out of his player option for the 2024 season has the Cubs in need of at least one, but likely two starting pitchers this offseason. That makes the latest batch of MLB rumors even more intriguing, because many of them mention top-of-the-rotation arms.

Starting on the free agent front, a reunion between the Philadelphia Phillies and right-hander Aaron Nola is looking more likely by the day. According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, the two sides are getting closer to finding a middle ground on a new deal that would keep the former LSU standout and first-round pick with the only team he's ever known long-term.

"The Phillies’ contract talks with Aaron Nola have gained significant momentum in the past few days and there’s strong optimism that they’ll reach an agreement before the winter meetings ... They are getting close to finding middle ground with Nola making it clear to Phillies’ management that he wants to stay put. "

Bob Nightengale, USA Today

Nola would be a perfect addition to the Cubs' rotation alongside All-Star left-hander Justin Steele as a proven innings-eater that would immediately deepen the staff, as a whole. But as one of the top free agent arms on the market, it would probably take Chicago handing out the largest free agent deal in franchise history - definitely the largest guarantee the team has ever doled out to a pitcher.

Cubs need to upgrade the rotation; a trade makes a ton of sense

In that next tier of free agent starters, Sonny Gray could also be a fit in Chicago. But, according to Nightengale, the NL Central rivals have his name circled on the wish list as they look to rebuild a rotation that ranked as one of the worst in all of baseball in 2023.

This season with Minnesota, Gray finished runner-up in AL Cy Young voting, working to a league-best 2.83 FIP and 0.4 HR/9 - setting himself up for a nice payday this winter. His age will likely prevent him from garnering a top-dollar deal (he's already 34), but he's going to draw widespread interest across the league.

This would be more of a middle-of-the-rotation addition in Chicago, again adding depth, but lacking the punch that a Nola or Yoshinobu Yamamoto would bring. Still, Gray coming to St. Louis isn't exactly a dream scenario.

Dylan Cease / Chicago Cubs
Chicago Cubs v Chicago White Sox / Quinn Harris/GettyImages

Former Cubs prospect Dylan Cease could be on the move this winter

The White Sox are open for business - and new GM Chris Getz could jump start his roster overhaul by trading 2022 AL Cy Young runner-up Dylan Cease. Of course, Cubs fans are intimately familiar with Cease as one of two former top prospects Theo Epstein sent to the South Side in exchange for Jose Quintana in 2017. But since that trade, the right-hander has established himself as one of the premier arms in the game.

Despite a bumpy 2023, though, he's drawing trade interest - specifically from the perenial powerhouse Los Angeles Dodgers, who have a ton of uncertainty in their rotation heading into 2024.

"The Los Angeles Dodgers are in trade talks with the Chicago White Sox in an attempt to acquire ace Dylan Cease. The Dodgers badly need pitching help, and the White Sox badly need to rebuild their roster. "

Bob Nightengale, USA Today

Cease, like a lot of White Sox pitchers, took a step backwards this year, but clearly that's not a concern for the Dodgers. The former sixth-rounder has two years of arbitration control left and won't hit free ageny until following the 2025 campaign.

So, again, a lot of starting pitcher rumors swirling this weekend and none directly mentioning the Cubs. But make no mistake: given Chicago's need of rotation reinforcements, these names potentially coming off the board could drive Jed Hoyer to get more aggressive on the trade market in the weeks to come.