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We're not going to pat ourselves on the back too hard considering the current free fall of the past week, but at the beginning of the season, we at CubsDNA HQ thought this team had a chance to be pretty good. Obviously, there were caveats: Bellinger had to bounce back, Steele, Stro, and Swanson had to repeat their good work from previous seasons, Nico had to take a step forward, and so on. The Cubs are six games over .500 and have at times looked primed to head to the postseason. So, we were right! Right?

Not exactly. Stro is on the shelf, Nico isn't having his best year, Dansby got the heel injury, they DFA'd two 1B and sent another back to AAA, Taillon has been rough, and the list goes on. On the flip side, what went right went REALLY RIGHT. Steele has turned into the cost-controlled ACE that the team has been dreaming about. Seiya looks like he might just be the guy we hoped for. The Summer of Tauchman happened! Madrigal has played excellent defense at third base. Hendricks, Assad, and Wicks have been solid. We got Gas Money to get us home! Most awesome of all, Bellinger has re-emerged as a legitimate star.

This year has proven to be a lot of fun, and while we aren't ready for next year quite yet, it's hard not to think about what lies ahead. While the two teams are very different in construction, this team seems to share an interesting similarity to the 2015 squad. They both seemed to have 'arrived' a year earlier than expected. Following a surprise season that ended in the NLCS, the Cubs got down to business and made serious improvements to a 97-win team. They signed Jason Heyward and John Lackey away from their biggest rival. They re-signed Dexter Fowler when it looked like he was headed to Baltimore, and perhaps biggest of all, they got Ben Zobrist in the fold. Regardless of how this season ends, I think the play of this 2023 team will result in the same kind of offseason upgrade (after we re-sign Belli, obviously). There is no bigger impact player than Shohei Ohtani. The Cubs were famously a legitimate finalist for his services back in 2017, despite his desire to stay on the West Coast. Do they have a better chance this time around? If the team truly is prepared to spend the money, then I think they have an even better shot at landing the Superstar Sensation from Japan.

The 'why' I think they have a better chance at landing him is where the explicit sunshine pumping comes in. The biggest issue with his time in Anaheim is that it was basically a 1.5-person show. He was the savior of the pitching staff, and he was the star hitter. He had a nice 1-2 punch when Trout was healthy, but he's never had a solid, reliable lineup or a starting pitching staff to help carry the load. It has to get frustrating feeling like you're the only reliable person on the team. *Pure speculation, obviously.

With the Cubs, though, he doesn't need to be the savior and do it all himself. He'd join a lineup that currently sports five strong starting regulars who are 29 and younger. (Yes, I'm counting Belli for 2024. It's happening. Maybe even 6 guys, if they bring back Candelario) Waiting in the wings, you have guys like PCA, Matt Shaw, Canario, and Owen Caissie. He could just be *a* guy (the best guy, lol) in the offense, not *the entire* offense. While he presumably won't be pitching in 2024, the Cubs pitching staff is arguably in even better shape, with the likes of Steele, Assad, Wicks, Merryweather, Palencia, Cuas, and Alzolay establishing themselves in the bigs. Lurking in the minors are guys like Ben Brown and Cade Horton, too. Coming off the injury rehab, there are seemingly several quality guys to share the load. And like him or not, Ross, along with Wrigley Field and the Front Office, has cultivated a winning locker room that's fun.

What about the competition, you say? The Giants, Padres, and Dodgers will be players on the West Coast, and the Yankees think they're owed every big Free Agent, so do the Cubs have a real shot? The Yankees and Padres are kind of a mess, while the Gaints currently sport a 2-man rotation and an uninspiring lineup. Which leaves us with the Dodgers. Freddie and Mookie are stars, Will Smith and James Outman are strong bats, and they'll get Lux back. Pretty stiff competition, but it's when you look at their pitching that the Cubs might have an edge. Kershaw and his eternally barking shoulder will be 36, both Dustin May and Walker F'n Buehler will be coming off major arm surgeries, and Urias just got arrested for Domestic Violence. Not the most stable situation to be walking into. Plus, he *HAS* to be tired of California and Staci's Boss and is ready for the charm and warmth of the Midwest. (I DO NOT WORK FOR GAVIN!!!--Staci)

Ohtani is a unicorn. Generational players rarely get to free agency, let alone while they're still in their 20s. The last time it happened, the Cubs stood in the box and struck on 3 pitches without taking a swing. This time around, they need to swing like Miguel Montero on an 0-2 pitch from Joe Blanton.


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