I do think you are right that the Cubs are able to compete this year. The "have to get guys" are going to be starting pitchers. All other positions we can do low risk high reward type signings.I'll be honest, I don't think the cubs are as bad as others do. There's 3 FA i'd sign if i could at the prices/length fangraphs has for their projections. The first is Kershaw. They have him going for 4/$26.5 mil. I get the reason why he's not going to command $30 mil a season but think there's still a lot to like there. The second I'd sign is grienke at the 1/$11 mil fangraphs has on him. To me he is similar to the lackey signing in 2016. He's a winner who you are just trying to milk the last bits out cheaply. With Hendricks, Miley and Alolay it allows you to slide some of the younger depth the cubs finally have into the bullpen rather than putting it all on them to start in 2022. For example, Steele and Marquez coming out of the bullpen is a lot more interesting and if they pitch well you have options to replace Miley and Greinke in 2023.
The last signing is pretty obvious but they have baez getting 4/$20M. That's a pretty no brainer for me. It buys you time for Howard and the other prospects and he can always move to 3B later if his defense takes a step back with age.
All told those 3 signings would push the 2022 payroll to $125.4 mil which is hardly breaking the bank and the best part is the two big signings in baez/kershaw would both be 4 year deals so you're not tied down long term. You make those moves and I think the cubs can be a wild card team who can push for the division if the dice roll well. I'd also look to play Nico in CF and Happ in LF with the idea being long term Nico moves to LF once PCA is ready. I realize Nico hasn't played CF but it was suggested he could play there when he was a prospect coming up and he's a better runner than Happ so I imagine he'd have better range.