It's Time for the Cubs to Finally Get Some Extensions Done

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It’s Time for the Cubs to Finally Get Some Extensions Done

Chicago Cubs

On Saturday, the Chicago Cubs inked Dansby Swanson to the second largest contract in franchise history (inflation notwithstanding), becoming just the fifth Cubs player signed for $100M or more:

1. Jason Heyward (8 years, $184M)
2. Dansby Swanson (7 years, $177M)
3. Jon Lester (6 years, $155M)
4. Alfonso Soriano (8 years, $136M)
5. Yu Darvish (6 years, $126M)

NOTE: Last offseason, Seiya Suzuki signed an $85 million contract with the Cubs with an additional $14.625M posting fee. So that’s awfully close to $100M, but doesn’t quite make the cut.

But even with Swanson, Jameson Taillon, Cody Bellinger, and Brad Boxberger now in place, the Cubs have a lot more work to do this offseason. For example, they could still use another catcher, another legitimate big league bat (3B? 1B? DH?), and probably some more pitching, too. You can always use more pitching.

But they can’t forget to look inwards.

Three weeks from this Friday (January 13) is the arbitration exchange date. That’s when arbitration-eligible players (like Ian Happ and Nico Hoerner) and their clubs formally exchange potential salary figures for the 2023 season. That’s also the most natural time to begin discussing a possible extension, with everyone already in the room, so to speak, working to avoid arbitration in the first place.

And while extension-specific conversations are sometimes saved for Spring Training, Cubs president Jed Hoyer has previously mentioned a desire to get something done without the pressure of the season looming. In fact, at the outset of the offseason, Hoyer indicated that extensions could soon be on the way for Happ and Hoerner, in particular, two guys who just had career years in 2022.

Nico Hoerner (25 years, 7 months)

– 135 games, 517 PAs
– 10 HRs, 22 doubles
– .281/.327/.410 (106 wRC+)
– 4.0 WAR

Ian Happ (28 years, 4 months)

– 158 games, 641 PAs
– 17 HRs, 42 doubles
– .271/.342/.440 (120 wRC+)
– 3.5 WAR
– All-Star, Gold Glove

Given their respective ages and positions, plus the exploding salaries on the infield market, I’d say Hoerner is likely the Cubs’ extension priority this offseason. But he also has three more years of team control remaining, while Happ is entering his walk year (i.e. a little more urgency there). If Happ did manage to repeat his 2022 success in 2023, he would get PAAAID as a 29-year-old free agent next offseason. So the Cubs might want to get ahead of that one, if they believe what he did this year was sustainable.

What might that deal look like? Well, Andrew Benintendi, 28, just got $75 million over five years in free agency, and has a pretty similar career arc to Happ since 2019:

Since 2019:

  • Happ: 8.0 WAR, 117 wRC+, 65 HRs, Gold Glove (1x), All-Star (1x)
  • Benintendi: 5.9 WAR, 107 wRC+, 35 HRs, Gold Glove (1x), All-Star (1x)

That’s admittedly a pretty convenient cutoff, because Benintendi had a great 2018 season (123 wRC+, 4.9 WAR). But that was quite a while ago and he hasn’t been close to as good since. On the flip side, Benintendi got his bag in free agency while Happ is looking for an extension. So there’s a little give and take here.

Along the same lines, and among other notable corner outfielders, Kyle Schwarber got four years and $79M ($19.75M AAV) going into his age-29 season and Nick Castellanos got five years and $100M ($20M AAV) going into his age-30 season. Both as free agents. Those guys had bigger offensive seasons before hitting free agency than Happ had last year, but they’re both also FAR worse defensively.

So in the end, the overall value is pretty similar.

Needless to say, I think we’re looking at an average annual value in the $16M-$18M range for Ian Happ. Likely around 4-5 years (but this all just depends on when the deal begins and if you include his existing 2023 money as part of the “extension”).

As of today, Happ is projected to make $10.6M in arbitration in 2023.

What about Nico Hoerner? Well, it’s a little more difficult to say. Extensions this far out from free agency are much more difficult to peg. And while he did benefit from another lighter-hitting, high-quality defensive shortstop getting a monster contract this winter (… Dansby Swanson with the Cubs), Hoerner is now a second baseman? I guess? That’s not exactly his fault, but he might need to make sure his bat plays up a bit now without the ideal positional advantage. He’s also played more than 50 games in a season just once in his career so far (135 games in 2022).

But if Hoerner makes 2022 a reoccurring thing (the health and performance), he’s going to keep pushing his earning capabilities WAY up the ladder. Well beyond Happ, and even as a “second baseman.” So, yes, the Cubs might want to, you know, GET AHEAD of that one of these times. It’s their job to project what kind of player he’ll be (and how much of an advantage locking him up early can provide).

One other related note, because this comes up every time we discuss possible extensions: Yes, the Cubs have some outfield prospects coming up the ladder (Brennen Davis, Alexander Canario, Pete Crow-Armstrong … and then much later Kevin Alcantara, Owen Caissie, etc.), but you can’t COUNT on prospects hitting many years down the road. Sometimes those players break out, sure, but sometimes they don’t. And sometimes they get hurt. And sometimes they get traded. We were extremely spoiled with unbelievable good luck on the prospect side during the last rebuild. So even if the Cubs did have the same clearly elite prospects this time around (they don’t), you wouldn’t expect it to play out as fortunately again.

And more to the point, wouldn’t it just be nice to have a team loaded with really good players?

Ask the Braves or the Dodgers if they feel overwhelmed with too many good players after some key extensions “clogged up” certain positions. You just don’t kick a productive 25 (or 28-year-old) player out the door because of blind hope for some future “core” that may never happen. Or I wouldn’t, at least. No, I say spend the money now. Reward your homegrown talent. And guarantee us, the fans, a floor of competitiveness with legitimate big leaguers like Hoerner and Happ ( … whose ages just so happen to fit perfectly alongside Seiya Suzuki, Dansby Swanson, and Justin Steele, among others, by the way).

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Author: Michael Cerami

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