The Chicago Cubs won the World Series back in 2016. And it seemed they had a young core that could keep them contending for years. Names like Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Anthony Rizzo seemed destined to lead the next generation of Cubs stars.

And to an extent, the club did remain competitive. They made the postseason in 2017 and 2018, winning 90+ games both seasons. However, they never made it back to the World Series. And they missed the postseason entirely in 2019.

Former 2016 Cub David Ross is now the manager at the helm, and he did lead them to a division title in the shortened 2020 season. But back-to-back disappointing seasons in 2021 and 2022 have seen the departure of all of their former stars.

Chicago still feels as if they can compete. They want to add elite talent, with names such as Carlos Correa and Trea Turner being thrown around in rumor mills. However, they would be wise to look down the market, as well, for quality pieces.

Here are three under-the-radar targets for the Chicago Cubs.

3 sneaky MLB free agents Cubs must target

3) Catcher Tucker Barnhart

Obviously, Barnhart only comes into play if the Cubs strike out on bringing back Willson Contreras. A poor 2022 season may give people pause, but Barnhart is a prime bounce-back candidate.

The veteran catcher spent the 2022 season with the Detroit Tigers following a trade from the Cincinnati Reds. The Tigers coveted his framing abilities and his reputation as a tremendous defensive backstop.

However, the Tigers didn’t get that version of Barnhart. He was a negative framer last season and recorded -6 defensive runs saved. It just wasn’t a great year for the 31-year-old.

There are a few reasons why Barnhart’s metrics were down last year. Chief among them is the health of the Tigers pitching staff. Injury decimated their starting rotation, leading to the team fielding a relatively inexperienced rotation for most of the season.

Prior to 2022, Barnhart was a great pitch framer and one of the best defensive catchers in the league. There’s no reason he can’t return to that form in 2023 in a different situation.

Of course, there are better options higher in the market. If the Cubs aren’t comfortable with the financial demands of those options, however, taking a flier on Barnhart would be worthwhile.

2) First baseman Miguel Sano

The Cubs could use an upgrade at first base. And they have been active in the first baseman market. Chicago has reached out to Jose Abreu, Trey Mancini, and Josh Bell.

If they miss out on those three, Sano is a very intriguing fallback option. He missed all but 20 games this past season with a knee injury. In 2021, however, he hit 30 home runs while playing in a career-high 135 games.

2021 is just one of four seasons in which the 29-year-old has hit 25 or more homers in a season. The power is certainly there. It’s just a matter of keeping Sano on the field.

The Cubs can certainly afford to take a chance on him. At worst, it doesn’t work out and he serves as a right-handed platoon to heir apparent Matt Mervis. At best, they get 25 home runs on a low-cost, short-term contract.

The Cubs certainly won’t be the only suitor for Sano. So they may have to pay up a bit, but the 29-year-old certainly won’t command a top-of-the-line payday.

Sano returning to form would help the Cubs be more competitive day in and day out. And if they can grab one of those elite shortstops, a return to the postseason may not be far off.

1) Pitcher Zack Britton

Britton could have options with more competitive teams. And given his history, it is far from surprising that teams would be interested in taking this risk.

From 2014 to 2020, Britton was simply one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. You could even make the argument there was no better pitcher to take the mound during that time.

However, since the 2020 season, injuries have slowed the soon-to-be 35-year-old’s roll. He’s pitched just 38 innings since the COVID-shortened season, and with the exception of 2020, the results haven’t exactly been pretty.

Whether Britton is able to return to the form he had in the mid-2010s remains to be seen. It certainly wouldn’t cost the team a lot to take a chance.

The team definitely couldn’t be blamed for it, even without Britton’s history. Their bullpen ranked 22nd in ERA a season ago. Chicago traded their better relievers at the trade deadline for the second year running, which doesn’t help matters.

The Cubs have a rather young bullpen as well. Experienced arms can help the younger pitchers with their development. And an experienced arm with the experience Britton has could be invaluable to the Cubs.