Ian Happ has been very vocal over the past year about his desire to remain with the Cubs. Whether that involved not wanting to be dealt at the 2022 trade deadline or wanting to stay with the team beyond 2023, Happ let it be known that he wanted to be here.
All that lobbying — both in public with the media and in private with the Cubs’ front office personnel — eventually paid off.
Minutes before first pitch Wednesday, the Cubs announced they agreed to terms with Happ on a three-year contract extension that runs from 2024-26. Terms of the deal weren’t officially disclosed, but a source confirmed to CHGO reports that said it’s worth $61 million. The deal also reportedly contains a no-trade clause.
“Just super excited to be here,” Happ said. “This is place that I’ve called home since 2015. The city, the fan base has meant so much to me throughout my career, and the fact that I get to continue to be here, continue to be a Cub and represent the organization means the world to me.”
When Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer conducted his usual Opening Day media scrum, he was asked if there was a desire on his part to continue to discuss an extension with Happ into the season. He seemed willing to do so. But ultimately, Hoyer noted, Happ had to reciprocate that willingness to conduct in-season negotiations.
“To me, that’s always a player thing, the in-season stuff,” Hoyer said. “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. 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 to do it.”
During the Cubs’ workout at Wrigley Field the day before Opening Day, Happ also sat down to chat with the media. He didn’t have much to say about the negotiations — “Went through the process, and that’s about it. There’s nothing really to report, no real comment on it,” he said — and appeared content to let the cards fall how they may this season.
Obviously, the two sides continued to discuss a deal behind closed doors.
Hoyer said the two sides talked consistently through spring training, but toward the end, a combination of focusing on nailing down an extension with Nico Hoerner plus the feeling that the sides were close enough to a deal meant they couldn’t get it done before Opening Day. Hoyer doesn’t even really love negotiating during spring. So, to continue those talks into the season meant both sides really wanted to get a deal done.
“It’s the place I’ve always wanted to be. I’ve been pretty clear about that for a long time,” Happ said. “I think just the fact that I have wanted to wear this uniform for as long as I possibly can made [negotiating in-season] pretty easy.”
This deal is a vote of confidence from the Cubs that Happ has truly unlocked the potential that enticed them to take him ninth overall in the 2015 MLB Draft.
Happ had a very strong 115-game rookie season in 2017. However, he then battled inconsistency over the next four years — so much so that he was optioned to Triple-A Iowa to start 2019. Although he never finished a season as a below league-average hitter in terms of wRC+, the up and down nature of his career even led to the idea that he could’ve been a non-tender candidate after 2021.
In 2022, though, Happ finally put it all together. He got to stick to one position, and he won his first Gold Glove in left field. Some mechanical tweaks and consistency at the plate all year led to a 3.6 fWAR season and his first All-Star nod.
Outsiders may have been right to question if he could repeat that production, but the Cubs didn’t need to see anymore. As long as Happ’s side agreed, the Cubs believed he’d discovered his best self.
“The rewarding thing is just how far, in my opinion, Ian’s come and the hard work he’s put in and making himself such a well-rounded player,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “He’s a big part of our leadership here. He’s a big part of what I think we’re going to become as an organization and a team.”
What the Cubs are going to become as a team is clearer after Wednesday.
With Happ’s extension now the newest longer-term deal on the books, the Cubs clearly believe they have a core group of players worth keeping around.
They have eight players with guaranteed contracts for 2024: Happ, Hoerner, Dansby Swanson, Seiya Suzuki, Jameson Taillon, Trey Mancini, Marcus Stroman and Drew Smyly (per RosterResource, both Stroman and Smyly have opt outs after this season, with Mancini also getting that option if he reaches 350 plate appearances). Beyond next year, Happ, Hoerner, Swanson, Suzuki and Taillon are all signed through at least 2026.
The additions of veterans/bounce-back candidates like Mancini, Eric Hosmer and Cody Bellinger improved this club’s floor in 2023. But when it comes to Hoyer’s “Next Great Cubs Team,” those players aren’t expected to be part of it. So, it’s going to be that combination of the five locked in through 2026 who will have to carry the mantle.
“It’s hard in this game to make those strong relationships when there’s so much turnover,” Hoerner said. “So to have the sense of some form of a core starting to come together, and it being guys that I really enjoy being around and I feel like prioritize things the right way and are grateful to be here — it’s a really exciting thing.”
With some big potential free agents signing extensions with their clubs over the winter, Happ was primed to be one of the best bats on the market. He might’ve been able to command a longer, richer deal.
But this is still the only organization he’s ever known. He’s learned from the group that was here when he arrived. He understands how to be successful with Cubs. A three-year deal still allows him to hit free agency when he’s 32, but it also means he has three more years to keep building a winner with the group here now.
Doing that, for this city and for this fan base, is still Happ’s biggest goal.
“I really wanted to play with this group of guys, with Nico and Seiya and Taillon and Dansby and the guys that are going to be here,” he said. “That part of it, and then the city and the fan base, like, what it means. That is the reason why I was willing to discuss a three-year term, because if that was what was going to get it done, that meant a lot to me.”