Cubs Expected to “Seriously Engage” Nico Hoerner and Ian Happ on Extensions This Offseason

In 2022, Nico Hoerner improved at the plate, solidified himself as an above-average defensive shortstop, and stayed healthy for most of the season. Meanwhile, Ian Happ made enormous improvements to his contact rate, fundamentally improved his production as a switch-hitter, became a Gold Glove left fielder, and got tabbed for his first All-Star team. It was a great year for both players.

Hoerner, 25, is under control for three more season via arbitration. Happ, 28, is entering his final season of team control with the Cubs. It has long been my opinion that both have earned extensions and that the Cubs should be happy to get that process started.

And fortunately, it sounds like we are weeks/months away from an honest attempt, per Sahadev Sharma and Patrick Mooney at The Athletic:

The Cubs are expected to seriously engage Nico Hoerner and Ian Happ — whose contract offers were a formality — in discussions about long-term extensions this winter.

About a month ago, Gordon Wittenmyer reported something similar with respect to Hoerner — and Jed Hoyer also indicated that they might approach some guys about extensions this offseason — but this is the most certain language we’ve seen so far for both Hoerner and Happ. It’s also a month later, which necessarily makes this a new data point.

Here’s what Brett had to say about extending Hoerner in the past:

Hoerner, 25, has emerged this year as an above-average bat, capable of playing multiple positions, including excellent shortstop. He’ll be arbitration-eligible for the first time for 2023, with two more years to follow. It’s just a very, very natural time for the Cubs and Hoerner to have the conversation: hey, want to lock in some guaranteed money in exchange for letting us extend you through a couple of those free agent years?

The other reason for the Cubs to be very willing to extend Hoerner right now is that you know that doing so is really not going to preclude you from doing anything else over the next several years, positionally or financially.

We got into it a lot on the latest ‘Onto Waveland’ podcast, but my general point was this: if you believe in Hoerner’s ability to be (1) a steady bat, and (2) capable of playing almost any defensive position if necessary, then there’s absolutely no reason not to try aggressively to extend him. No matter what version of the team you formulate for 2024, 25, 26, 27, etc., it’s highly likely that you’ll be able to use a Nico Hoerner in one way or another.

And in the meantime, you get in a cost-certain AAV on a five or six-year deal, at a very digestible level since he’s only just now reaching arbitration.

Also? The guy is 25, is already a leader, has gotten better with time in the big leagues, and probably has upside from here. Extending good players is, generally speaking, a good idea.

Meanwhile, Ian Happ has not made his love for the Cubs and the city of Chicago a secret:

“I’ve been really upfront about the fact I love it here,” Happ said, per the Tribune. “I can’t say this one thing (winning a Gold Glove) is going to be a determining factor of that, but the whole year, putting together (good stats) on the offensive and defensive side and the consistency from both sides of the plate, all those things give you a chance to be somewhere long term. And hopefully the value you generate is appreciated by everybody.”

“I hope so; I hope so,” Happ said of a long-term extension, per NBC Sports Chicago.

Maybe you’re not concerned about the recent injuries to Alexander Canario and Brennen Davis, especially because Happ is already under control for 2023 (when those guys may be less available than anticipated). But those setbacks should serve as a reminder that you can’t just count on prospects to come up and save the day. Happ is in his prime right now, and he made huge, fundamental changes to his game this past season (which raised his floor as a player). He also loves it in Chicago and wants to stay with the Cubs. Sometimes, you don’t have to overthink it.

There is of course a limit to any offer, especially guaranteeing new money a year out from free agency, but I think there’s probably something that can be done to leave both sides happy. Or equally unhappy, as all fair deals end up.

I got into this a bit on Twitter about two weeks ago:

The key difference between the deals signed by Schwarber/Castellanos ($19M-$20M AAV) and the one we’re trying to nail down for Happ is that Happ is not yet a free agent. Those two guys were when they signed. So even though Happ is a year younger right now, you have to factor that discount into any potential extension. I tend to think we’re talking about a $16M+ average annual value in any case, but it all depends on the years (and if you’re including 2023 as part of the calculus).

If you want to go shorter (2-3 years), I think the AAV will have to rise into that $18-$19M range, if you go longer (4-5 years), I could see it being closer to $16M-$17M per year. And remember, Happ is already projected to make $10.6M in 2022. If you simply guarantee that number now, but include it in his “extension” that will help drive the AAV down, which could work for both sides. For example, the Cubs guarantee $10.5M for Happ in 2023 and tack on three years at $19M per year. That’s a $16.87M AAV overall, but $19M per year in new money. Maybe that makes everyone happy?

(Those numbers are complete speculation, offered up as an illustration of the broader point, but I think this is generally the range we’ll be discussing).

The risk here also works in both directions. Maybe the Cubs aren’t dying to pay Happ after his first season of putting it all together. That’s understandable. But if Happ repeats his success again next year (a Gold Glove, switch-hitting left fielder with a 120 wRC+ and 3.5 WAR), he’s going to get PAID as a 29-year-old free agent next winter. That’s kinda the whole point of these extensions right? The player gets security (but risks the big payday), the team might get a discount (but risks overpaying).

I think Hoerner is (and probably should be) the team’s priority, but I’d really love to see both guys extended. And it sounds like the Cubs are going to try very soon.

written by

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami

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