The Chicago Cubs appear to be putting the finishing touches on their offseason. The club signed free agents Dansby Swanson, Tucker Barnhart, Jameson Taillon, Eric Hosmer and Brad Boxberger, and appear to be better on paper than the club was when the off-season began two months ago.
The Cubs might not be finished adding to their big league club. The team has shown interest in free agent Trey Mancini, who could be a potential designated hitter option for 2023.
But as the Cubs finish adding to their roster, attention will shift to a lingering question: What are the club’s long-term plans with outfielder Ian Happ? Is he a part of the team’s long-term plans?
Happ appeared to believe that the club was trading him before last August’s trade deadline, as he and Willson Contreras embraced in an emotional hug in what they both seemed to believe was their final game with the Cubbies. Neither was traded however. Contreras left the Cubs this winter, signing a five-year deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. As Happ enters into his contract year, what does his future hold?
Happ experienced his best season in 2022, slashing .271/.342/.781 and receiving his first MLB All-Star Game appearance and a National League Gold Glove Award.
If Happ is able to repeat his 2022 performance this season, he should be in line for a contract similar to the one Andrew Benintendi received from the city of Chicago’s team on the south side: five years, $75 million.
The Cubs could try to extend Happ now. Happ appeared to turn a corner in 2022, but he isn’t necessarily a lock to replicate his success in 2023. Entering the month of September in 2021, Happ slashed .199/.299/.681 through his first 120 games that season.
The Cubs have three top-100 outfield prospects currently in their farm system: Pete Crow-Armstrong, Brennen Davis and Kevin Alcantara. Davis was on-track for a big league debut in 2022, but injuries have delayed his development. Crow-Armstrong and Alcantara appear to be candidates for a 2024 call-up.
The Cubs have one outfield position locked up for the next four seasons, at least. Seiya Suzuki is the only outfielder with a long-term contract. The Cubs signed Cody Bellinger, who should patrol center this season, to a one-year deal last month. If he excels in 2023, perhaps the Cubs might try to sign him to a long-term contract. The Cubs wouldn’t want to block their top prospects from getting a chance to develop, unless their plan is to trade them.
If I had to predict what I think will happen with Happ: I expect the Cubs to try to compete in the first half of the 2023 season. If they are unable to, they will once again sell off parts at the trade deadline. Happ seems like a trade candidate, considering that he has not received an extension yet, and the Cubs may have options in their farm system that quite frankly have higher ceilings than Happ does.
I don’t expect the Cubs to trade Happ before Opening Day, but I could be wrong. The New York Yankees are in the market for a left fielder, and Happ could be a good fit. If I had to guess though, based on the Cubs’ active offseason, I expect them to keep Happ to open the season, and see how things shake out as the season goes along. He could be dealt at the deadline, or follow in Contreras’ footsteps in finishing out his time with the Cubs, then joining a new club via free agency next winter.
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