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What do the Cubs do next after missing out on Shohei Ohtani?

Chicago is left empty-handed after the biggest free agent in the history of the sport signed with the Dodgers. Now what?

Cody Bellinger of the Chicago Cubs hits a home run in the sixth inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on September 03, 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

In the end, it was the Los Angeles Dodgers all along. We were beginning to doubt, but the opportunity to sign with one of the sport’s glamour franchises, remain on the West Coast and make more money than god were simply too much for the two-way phenom to pass up. L.A. has World Series dreams dancing through their heads, arguably the best player the sport has ever seen in tow. For the other rumored finalists, meanwhile, it’s time to pick up the pieces after a devastating emotional roller coaster over the last 12-18 hours.

One of those finalists? The Cubs, who seemed primed to get aggressive this offseason after poaching manager Craig Counsell from the rival Brewers. We’d forgive fans on the North Side if they’ve yet to reach the acceptance phase yet. But 2024 is coming now matter what, and this is still a team primed to contend in a wide-open NL Central even without Ohtani in the lineup. Where can Jed Hoyer look to improve a club on the rise? Let’s break it down.

What should Cubs do next this offseason?

A Cody Bellinger-sized bat — or two

Chicago has a solid offensive foundation with Dansby Swanson, Seiya Suzuki, Ian Happ, Nico Hoerner, Christopher Morel and top prospects Pete Crow-Armstrong and Matt Mervis. But they currently have a Bellinger-sized hole in their lineup, with question marks at both corner infield spots and/or DH, depending on where they want to primarily play the versatile Morel. Ohtani would’ve fit the bill perfectly, but alas, he’s staying in L.A. Hoyer has the means to pivot, though, and now landing Bellinger becomes the fall-back plan — Chicago can shift him to a first base/DH role full-time, allowing Morel to man third with Patrick Wisdom as a bench option against lefties. If they lose out on the bidding for Bellinger, other options include a reunion with Jorge Soler or Joc Pederson or someone like long-time Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins or veteran righty Justin Turner.

Go get Yoshinobu Yamamoto (or more pitching depth)

This was going to be a 2024 need with or without Ohtani, but Chicago’s rotation is currently some combination of Justin Steele, Kyle Hendricks, Jameson Taillon, Javier Assad, Jordan Wicks and Hayden Wesneski. That’s not the worst group, but it’s also awfully short on reliably above-average options. Chicago has money to spend, and if they don’t choose to spend it on Bellinger, they should be all-in on the bidding for Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto — a legit No. 1 just entering his prime at 25 who would allow Steele, Hendricks and Taillon to bump down a spot in the hierarchy, positions for which they’re much better suited. Of course, just about every big market in the league wants Yamamoto, and if Hoyer can’t close the deal there, he could pivot to someone like Lucas Giolito, Michael Wacha, Seth Lugo or some combination therein. (Yes, there’s also Blake Snell, but he’s awfully hard to trust on a major long-term deal given his command issues and inconsistent track record.) More bullpen depth couldn’t hurt too, of course, but starting pitching is the priority.

Trade Christopher Morel

Morel has been dangled in trade talks so often this offseason that it’s become something of a meme unto itself. But he’s just 24, and he offers just enough power (.508 SLG last year) and upside on a pre-arb contract to convince a team that they can build around him, and he could be the key to acquiring another frontline arm (Corbin Burnes? Tyler Glasnow?) or a big bat (Randy Arozarena?). If Chicago doesn’t want to ride the Morel roller coaster any longer — and his plate discipline issues make it seem unlikely that he’ll ever kick his extreme streakiness — now is the time to move.