The Chicago Cubs are one year removed from winning the World Series, but questions are already swirling about the offseason after the team was eliminated from the NLCS by the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday night.
The Cubs, who won their second straight National League Central crown and reached the NLCS for the third straight year this season, still have an incredibly young core of talented players, but the accompanying pieces faltered in October, and management seems poised to shake things up this offseason.
What positions will the team look to bolster? What players could find themselves competing for roles next season?
To answer that question, here are the four things the Cubs absolutely must have on their shopping list as the offseason nears.
Middle of the Rotation Starting Pitcher
The Cubs have already made a big splash this year in acquiring pitcher Jose Quintana from the Chicago White Sox, but they’re going to need to make another addition to their rotation with the likely departure of Jake Arrieta via free agency this winter.
If Arrieta does end up leaving, the Cubs will be left either dipping into the free agent pool or the trade market this offseason. Pitchers like Lance Lynn and Andrew Cashner could fit the team’s needs, but pitchers like Alex Cobb could be just out of their price range.
A big splash for someone like Shohei Otani could be possible too, but with limited international signing money, fans shouldn’t bank on his arrival in Chicago.
After losing Dexter Fowler to free agency, the Cubs never really had a solid option to lead games off, as Kyle Schwarber faltered in the role and Ben Zobrist regressed into platoon status, becoming bad from the right side of the plate.
Unfortunately for the Cubs, the free agent market is pretty thin in terms of center fielders that could fill the role (likely the only defensive position where the Cubs will look to make additions this year), but if someone like Schwarber or Ian Happ is dealt for pitching help, then that could open up their options a bit on the market.
This is going to be an interesting situation. Originally, it could be argued that someone like Justin Wilson or Carl Edwards would step into the void that Wade Davis might leave if he leaves in free agency, but with their struggles this year, the closer position is much less settled.
If the Cubs do decide to go in a different direction at closer, they will have a few options, as Fernando Rodney will be on the market as well. The two guys to keep an eye on here are Greg Holland, who racked up 41 saves for the Rockies in 2017, and Brandon Morrow, who has reinvented his career as a set-up man for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Cubs have made it a point to stock up on as many bullpen arms as they can, and they will definitely do that after their bullpen imploded during the 2017 playoffs.
It’s hard to peg how the Cubs will approach strengthening that area of weakness this offseason, but the team will likely go the route of many other big league clubs on the market: target guys both with high velocity and with good movement on their pitches, as hitters seem to have difficulty in dealing with both of those abilities as games move along.
Pitchers like Pat Neshek could be interesting options, as could Dodgers reliever Tony Watson.