It’s been nearly a week since the Cubs’ pre-Opening Day workout at Wrigley Field last Wednesday, so it’s been nearly a week since Ian Happ said “there’s nothing really to report, no real comment” regarding extension talks with the Cubs.
“Just not something I really want to get into,” Happ said. “Went through the process, and that’s about it.”
Happ’s sit down with the media came less than two days after the Cubs and Nico Hoerner agreed on a three-year extension. Just a few hours later, Hoerner’s deal became official. The two have become close friends ever since Hoerner made his debut on Sept. 9, 2019, 15 months after the Cubs took him 24th overall in the 2018 MLB Draft.
Despite his own lack of an extension, of course Happ had nothing but good things to say about Hoerner’s new deal.
“Super happy for him and that he’s really happy about how everything went down, about the fact that he’s going to be here, he has some security,” Happ said. “That’s the most fulfilling part as a teammate and a friend. Having been so close with him for so long, being able to watch just how excited he is to be here for the next three years is really cool.”
Happ is obviously happy that Hoerner got to the finish line. Nobody expected anything different. But without his own extension in place right now, Happ remains in a tough position.
The trade rumors surrounding Happ in 2022 turned into near daily questioning for the now one-time All-Star and one-time Gold Glove winner. It got to the point that Happ genuinely thought a trade might be coming (after the deadline passed, he jokingly placed the blame for that on the media).
Still, that situation was different in that the Cubs had a full season of team control if a trade didn’t happen. Now, Happ is in the situation Willson Contreras was last year and Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Báez were the year before: set to hit free agency with no deal in place as the season gets underway.
The fact that nobody knows where the Cubs will be at the end of July adds no clarity to the situation.
Happ is one of two players on the roster who’ve made an All-Star team in the last two seasons. If the Cubs are intent on competing this season, how do they justify trading someone who should be considered one of their best players at the trade deadline? That decision makes more sense if they are out of the race when the deadline rolls around — but that’d be a different indictment on the front office’s ability to put together a winner.
There’s also the argument that a trade makes sense since some of the top prospects in the system are outfielders. That’s not untrue. Per MLB Pipeline, the Cubs’ top three prospects (Pete Crow-Armstrong, Kevin Alcántara and Brennen Davis) are outfielders, and Davis should be ready for the big leagues at some point this year. So, it’s understandable that some might consider Happ an expendable piece.
But putting all their eggs into the prospect basket would be a foolish thing for the Cubs to do. How often do top prospects fail to deliver? It wasn’t even until his sixth major league season that Happ finally put it all together. How can you expect your top prospects to come up and succeed when that often doesn’t happen, at least not right away?
It’s all just an example of how murky this situation has become. With no deal in place, and if the Cubs are in a position to sell at the deadline, Happ’s name will almost certainly be floated around again. On the bright side, he at least has experience with that.
“Going through stuff last year was pretty helpful for that,” Happ said. “I think that going through feeling like you’re going to get traded and having that experience with the deadline is probably something that helped [me] just enjoy the day to day. Just enjoy being here, enjoy the fan base.”
Those in the clubhouse understand how important Happ is for the team, both as a player on the field and as a resource off of it. He’s now the second-longest tenured Cub, and although he wasn’t on the World Series team, he was around the previous core long enough to understand what it takes to succeed at the big league level.
For the players still trying to make names for themselves, Happ brings valuable knowledge of the ins and outs of the game — and they hope that continues beyond this season.
“He’s been so influential for me,” Hoerner said. “He’s an incredible player, but his value to our locker room and to me just exceeds that tremendously. Just incredibly grateful that I’ve gotten to play with him for so long, and hopefully I will for a lot longer.”
For what it’s worth, the Cubs’ front office hasn’t publicly shut down negotiations. President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer has said he’s willing to continue to talk into the season, though that might come down to what Happ wants to do.
“The in-season stuff, I mean, I don’t have to hit a fastball or play left field, so it doesn’t affect me. I can sit at my desk any day,” Hoyer said. “That’s a player issue, not me, but I am super respectful of that. I know how hard it is to perform in general, and having negotiations going on can be really difficult for some guys. So, I respect the fact that guys won’t do it.
“[Happ is] a great person, great representative of the team. He’s a really good switch hitter, a really good left fielder, and we’d love to have him for a long time. Obviously, we weren’t able to reach an agreement right now, but that doesn’t preclude us in any way from reaching agreement in the future. We’d love to. I don’t want to sit here and say “we’re done, it’s over,” but I do think we’ll sort of take anything we do underground at this point.”
The Cubs didn’t get any extensions done after Kyle Hendricks and David Bote’s in 2019. They got to the finish line with Hoerner, and though it buys out just one year of his free agency, it’s at least a step in the right direction.
Having now seen the highs and lows of extension negotiations, Happ understands his situation. There’s really only three options: get a deal done, get traded before the deadline or stick with the club and become a free agent in the offseason.
Regardless of how things play out over the next few months, Happ seems content with just enjoying where he’s at now.
“You play with other guys that end up other places, and it’s OK,” Happ said. “That part of it is like, it’s not the end of your career when you’re not playing where you came up. There’ll definitely be moments here or there, but it’s appreciating that, appreciating getting to play with this group. Those are the things that I’ve learned in the last two seasons.”