For the vast majority of the second half of this 2023 MLB season, the Chicago Cubs seemed destined to make their first playoff appearance in three years, as they were easily one of the best teams in baseball for a solid two months.
Unfortunately for the North Siders, they went cold the last few weeks and were officially eliminated from postseason contention on Saturday when the Miami Marlins defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates.
There's always next year, right? Yes, it seems Cubs fans are back to having pre-2016 feelings these days.
But before the 2024 season begins next spring, the Cubs have plenty of decisions to make during this upcoming MLB offseason regarding free agency.
Here, we'll take a quick look at five free agents or possible free agents and opine whether Chicago should re-sign these players or take a pass.
Marcus Stroman, P
Whether or not Marcus Stroman is wearing a Chicago Cubs uniform in 2024 is initially his decision, as the 32-year-old holds a $21 million player option.
The way Stroman was pitching before the All-Star break, it seemed he was on his way to setting new career highs in wins and strikeouts, which would have made his decision a bit tougher as he likely would have been one of the top arms available in free agency.
But after some dreadful performances in July, which raised his ERA by more than a point, Stroman then missed more than a month of action with a rib injury. And he didn't pitch particularly well when he returned, posting a 5.63 ERA in four September appearances.
Despite Stroman expressing his desire to remain in the Windy City, the Cubs have said that there are no plans to give him an extension. So he may just have to opt in to give himself a little financial security for 2024.
But if he does opt out, the Cubs could easily still bring him back, perhaps even at a cheaper rate.
Michael Fulmer, P
Staying with the pitcher theme as we move along here, let's have a look at right-handed reliever Michael Fulmer.
Playing this 2023 season on a one-year/$4 million deal, Fulmer certainly had his ups and downs this year.
The first two months of the season didn't go particularly well, as he was 0-4 with a 7.36 ERA on May 31.
But the 30-year-old was much better in June, posting a 0.66 ERA in a dozen appearances, striking out 14 in 13.2 innings pitched. He was solid in July as well, with a 2.38 ERA and 10 strikeouts in 10 appearances.
But just as the Cubs did as a team, Fulmer struggled down the stretch and actually finished the year on the disabled list with a forearm injury.
Overall, he finished the season with a 3-5 record with a 4.42 ERA. But while Fulmer recorded 65 strikeouts in 57.0 innings, he also walked 28 batters and had a WHIP of 1.333, one of the highest in the Cubs' entire bullpen.
As it might take seven or eight million bucks for Chicago to bring him back, there's likely a younger, cheaper option for the Cubs out there, either in free agency or in their farm system.
Yan Gomes, C
David Ross knows what a solid catcher can do for a baseball team, and he's undoubtedly got a valuable one in Yan Gomes.
Okay, so the Cubs certainly didn't get the offensive production from the catcher spot that Willson Contreras provided for years. But that's not why Gomes was brought to Chicago. He was signed to be a veteran leader on the field and to provide a capable bat in the Cubs' lineup. And that's what he's given the North Siders the past two seasons.
Entering Sunday's season finale, Gomes had a solid slash line of .267/.315/.408 with 10 home runs and 63 runs batted in. He's also been a solid defender, committing just six errors on the year (that's two less than Contreras, by the way), and is a magnificent game-caller. The vast majority of the Cubs' pitchers have lower ERAs when he's behind the plate.
Catcher is easily one of the most challenging positions to replace, and there's no reason the Cubs' front office should even consider doing that this offseason, especially given how cheap Gomes is to retain. The team holds a $6 million option for the 2024 campaign, and management needs to just go ahead and exercise it as quickly as possible.
Jeimer Candelario, INF
Acquired from the Washington Nationals at the trade deadline, Jeimer Candelario got off to a blistering start in a Cubs uniform, slashing .409/.469/.591 in his first 12 games back with the team that first signed him as a teenager back in 2010.
Unfortunately, a back injury hindered his production down the stretch, and he struggled throughout the month of September, slashing .143/.288/.405. Despite the struggles, however, Candelario still finished his 2023 season (combining Nats and Cubs stats) hitting just over .250 with 22 home runs and 70 runs batted in.
The Cubs got him cheap to finish the year, paying only $1.666 million for his services. But it'll cost a lot more to bring the unrestricted free agent back to the Windy City.
Spotrac estimates that Candelario's market value is roughly $11.61 million per year. And some believe he may command even more.
While Chicago may not want to go too high, it might be worth it if he'd agree to sign for just a year or two.
With 2023 first-round pick Matt Shaw already tearing it up in the minors, Candelario could serve as somewhat of an insurance policy for the next season or two until Shaw is ready for the show.
When healthy, Candelario brings a potent bat to the Chicago lineup and is also a solid, versatile defender. The Cubs aren't likely to have many better options in free agency at third base, and it would be interesting to see what he could do with an entire season at Wrigley Field.
Cody Bellinger, OF
And last but not least, of course, we come to Cody Bellinger, who was easily the Chicago Cubs' MVP for the 2023 season.
Heading into Sunday's finale against the Brewers, the former Dodger had a slash line of .307/.356/.525 while leading the team in both home runs (26) and runs batted in (97). So it's fair to say he was worth the $12 million base salary Chicago paid him this year (incentives and bonuses pushed his earnings closer to $18 million).
There's a mutual option worth another $12 million on the table for 2024, but there's no way Bellinger opts in as his bounceback season has put him in position to command perhaps double that amount moving forward.
And make no mistake about it. He'll have plenty of suitors the moment he enters free agency.
Still only 28 years old, Bellinger has clearly shown he's still got the tools he did when he won the 2019 NL MVP. And if the Cubs' season had gone better overall, he'd likely be a bigger part of the conversation for that award this year.
So, should the Cubs enter the Cody Bellinger sweepstakes? Yes, they should. They failed to pay any of their big stars when the World Series-winning team was dismantled a few years back, upsetting the fan base.
David Ross needs a star to build around, and Bellinger is that guy. The question is whether or not the Ricketts family is ready to open up the checkbook and pay the two-time All-Star what he's worth, which could very well be $25 million (or more) per season.
We'll find out soon enough.