What is Ian Happ's future with the Cubs?
David Kohl - USA Today Sports

What is Ian Happ's future with the Cubs?

by - Staff Writer -

Some of the dust has begun to settle on the Cubs' offseason and it has, without a doubt, been a very productive one. The Cubs made big splashes to acquire players like Dansby Swanson, Cody Bellinger, and Jameson Taillon, but have also made some under-the-radar acquisitions to effectively supplement the roster in Tucker Barnhart, Brad Boxberger, Drew Smyly, Eric Hosmer, and Trey Mancini.

While some of these players may be past their prime or looking for a change of scenery, the fact of the matter is that the Cubs are built as a much better team than they were in 2021. As the Cubs build for the future, they knew they would need to acquire some talent from outside of the organization to be building blocks on the next great Cubs team — but the fact of the matter is you can not build a championship-winning ball club without talent inside the franchise, and it appears the Cubs believe they have some of that in their farm system and on the current MLB roster. One of those players is Ian Happ.

Happ was drafted in the first round of the 2015 MLB draft and made his debut in 2017, contributing in a big way to a Cubs team that was on their way to their second straight NL Central title and their third straight trip to the NLCS. Happ was an interesting prospect. He had strong contact skills on the right side of the plate and strong power skills from the left — but the switch-hitting element of his made him attractive at the bare minimum. Happ was drafted as an infielder but joined a Cubs team that had Kris Bryant at third base, Javier Baez at second base, Addison Russell at shortstop and players like Ben Zobrist, Tommy La Stella, David Bote, Daniel Descalso, and others in the picture.

So with a log jam at his desired position, but the Cubs with a desire to put him in the lineup, Happ was forced to play center field — Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, Kris Bryant, Nick Castellanos are among some of the players who played the corners — so Happ’s only avenue to playing time was splitting time in centerfield with Jon Jay, Albert Almora Jr., and Jason Heyward on occasion.

Happ struggled to develop into a big-league center fielder, and he also experienced some understandable struggles at the plate. In 2018 he hit just .233, and his run production numbers were way down. As a result, this led to Happ spending the majority of the 2019 season in the minor leagues, focussing on cutting down on his strikeouts at the plate and improving his defense in the outfield.

Since he returned at the back end of 2019 through the 2021 season, the strikeouts were down, the batting average was up and the defense was better in the outfield.

Come 2022, Happ was given the starting job in left field — and finally began to settle in that position. The result? The best season of his career.

Happ hit a career-high .271 at the plate, drove in a career-high 72 runs, won a Gold Glove for his defense in left field, and earned a selection to his first career All-Star game.

Happ, a common candidate in trade rumors, built his stock up higher than it had ever been in 2022 — and was expected to be a part of the anticipated sell-off for the second straight season. Like his comrade Willson Contreras, the writing was on the wall of their departure — however, in reality, the Cubs had their two all-stars twisting in the wind and never traded them.

So now here is Happ, fresh off the best season of his career. The Cubs’ busy offseason may not be over, as an extension for Ian Happ may be in the cards.

Not only is Happ an all-star on the field, but he is also well respected as a leader in the clubhouse. He is the Cubs representative in the player’s union, he is savvy financially, he is active in the community, he is well respected in the baseball media realm, and is an entrepreneur off the field — all attractive qualities that a team would want in a player who they’d hope to keep around for the long haul.

But, we have thought that before of players like Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Willson Contreras — so the Cubs' track record of disrespecting and refusing to pay core players is not on Happ’s side in this discussion.

However, Jed Hoyer has done a good job of showing that this rebuild will not be exactly like the last. There is a commitment to developing pitching and making smart baseball moves, not necessarily just flexing financial muscles and digging holes. All of that considered, Happ appears to be an attractive candidate for an extension.

If the Cubs do not extend him this offseason, as his contract is due up at the end of the 2023 season, we will have an all-to-familiar season of monitoring rumors and measuring the potential trade value of a star that should be in Chicago long time.

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