Re-signing Cody Bellinger in free agency is far from a guarantee - especially when his price tag could run into uncharted territory for the Cubs. So improving on this year's 83-win performance can't be assumed, especially when the front office and ownership has shown a clear aversion to the very top of the free agent pool.
Yes, the Cubs came away with a top-tier shortstop last winter, but it was pretty clear from the start, they weren't going to blow any teams away for one of these guys with a $200+ million offer. So with a clear need at both corner infield spots, in the middle of the order and at the top of the rotation, how will Jed Hoyer make additions that drastically improve the team without navigating these uncharted financial waters?
We could see a blockbuster trade, such as the one rumored in recent weeks surrounding Mets first baseman Pete Alonso. But losing Bellinger while adding Alonso alone won't improve this team - in fact, it would be viewed as a step backward given the former's ability to play Gold Glove defense at multiple positions and change the game with his legs, arm and bat.
Cubs need improvements in several areas of the roster heading into 2024
Perhaps another one-year prove-it deal is in the cards. Someone like Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins, who has missed the entire season recovering from knee surgery, could fit the mold of someone looking for a short-term pact to re-establish his value before testing the free agent waters again next winter.
That strategy worked well enough with Bellinger, and could allow Hoyer another year's time of evaluating his up-and-coming position player prospects before deciding on any big signings. But it, again, would take more than just Hoskins for this team to improve on its 2023 performance.
Matt Chapman is a name we've seen tied to the Cubs (at least in speculation) - but his bat leaves plenty to be desired. A reunion with Jeimer Candelario is also possible, but neither represent that added level of offense the team needs. Jorge Soler could be that big bat out of the DH spot, and could be relatively affordable in the grand scheme of things.
When it comes to the rotation, Aaron Nola continues to see his value climb with each dominant October start and likely NL Cy Young winner Blake Snell won't come cheap. Nor will looking overseas to someone like Yoshinobu Yamamoto, whose contract could end up topping that of Masahiro Tanaka before it's all said and done.
Like I said: I'm not here to lay out the solution here. I'm simply pointing out that, in terms of financial commitments, it seems likely the Cubs are going to have to spend on a level of free agent they haven't historically spent on - outside of the exceptions like Jon Lester or Dansby Swanson. If they don't, it will take a master class in creativity from the front office to notably improve this team enough to make it a legitimate postseason threat in 2024.