One Extension Estimate on Ian Happ Offers Up an Old Friend Comp
Ian Happ has a whole lot going for him as he approaches free agency for the first time.
For one thing, the Cubs’ left fielder will have only just turned 29 when free agency begins. For another thing, he will be able to point to (at least) a 2022 season where he became the most well-rounded and productive version of himself at the plate, while also winning a Gold Glove in left field. For still another thing, the upcoming class is extraordinarily weak on quality bats, and Happ’s is going to look mighty good to a lot of teams.
That is all to say, if Happ puts together a 2023 season that looks anything like his 2022 season, he’s going to get PAID in free agency, and he’s going to deserve it.
That leaves open the question we’ve been asking all offseason: but what about an extension with the Cubs? Is it even still possible at this point? Or is another Cubs player going to come and go by midseason trade or after-season departure?
You know all the competing angles on that, so I won’t belabor it. The Cubs love Happ and vice versa, there’s a need for Happ’s offensive stability in the middle of the order, the Cubs’ strongest group of prospects are in the outfield, the Cubs have dealt with injury issues among that outfield group, so on and so forth. Where I consistently land is that I would really like to see the Cubs and Happ get together on an extension – I think you try to retain that bat and worry about the outfield mix when the prospects force you to worry about it – though I understand that the Cubs would have an upper limit and Happ would have a lower limit. Sometimes, those two limits just don’t align.
The reason I raise the issue today is because The Athletic took a look ahead at some of the players in the upcoming free agent class who MIGHT be extension candidates at the moment. The article, from Tim Britton, wondered what it would cost the teams to retain the players if they signed the deals today.
As you would expect, Happ is among the ten free agents discussed.
Britton uses recent comps to discuss Happ’s possible extension value. The most notable comp is old friend Nick Castellanos, whose profile is different from Happ’s, but whose value and age and position were similar to Happ’s in the run-up to free agency. Britton comes up with an annual price tag for Happ ($18 million) slightly lower than what Castellanos got in free agency (the deal assumes the risk of 2023, so you would indeed expect the price tag on a perfect recent free agent comp to be slightly lower), but for effectively the same five years that Castellanos got from the Phillies.
Combined with Happ’s current 2023 deal, which is for just shy of $11 million, you can round it off and get a final extension proposal of six years and $100 million. The extension would retain Happ for his age 29, 30, 31, 32, and 33 seasons.
Going on nothing more than gut feel, based on the competing interests discussed above and the current front office’s nearly pathological resistance to length in contracts, I think that’s probably a year or two longer than the Cubs would offer at the moment, and probably a higher AAV, too. I’m not saying the Cubs should not, or even ultimately would not, go to that level (though I have to think if they would, the deal would be done). I just don’t see this front office guaranteeing five more years, a year out from free agency, to a left fielder. Even one they like as much as Happ.
The question is whether that’s actually the price level Happ is seeking, and if so, just how far below it the Cubs would find themselves. As we always talk about with extensions, there’s value to the player in having the security of that first big monster deal, but when you’re THIS close to free agency – and when you’re as involved in the MLBPA as Happ is – you sometimes want to roll the dice on yourself and really try to push things forward in free agency. Like I said, if Happ has another very good year in 2023, and if the free agent push is as hot as it was this past offseason, then it’s not that hard to see him getting MORE than Castellanos got.
There are just a couple weeks left in Spring Training, and it’s been radio silence on this front for a long time now. That doesn’t mean talks aren’t happening, but we sure haven’t heard anything. I’m not optimistic at this point that a deal will get done, which – just as with Nico Hoerner – is a huge bummer. At a fan level, you get attached to certain players who’ve been drafted and developed by the organization, who’ve come up and succeeded, and who’ve folded themselves into the Chicago community. I like Happ. I’d like to see him on the Cubs for at least a few more years.