Is the Door Completely Closed on an Ian Happ Extension?
Ian Happ has gotten off to a good start this year. Through four games, he’s notched four hits (including a double and a homer) plus five walks, resulting in a .333/.529/.667 (230 wRC+) slash line here in the microscopic sample of the early season.
He has already struck out six times, which is a lot, and it seems to be because his zone contact rate is down. But the worst of it came against Corbin Burnes on Opening Day, which is at least somewhat understandable (Burnes was top-10 in zone whiff rate last season). And as a matter of fact, Happ is swinging at fewer pitches out of the zone than he has even throughout his career, which was already one of his strengths. So even if you were trying to do a lot with the small sample, it’s going to point you in various opposing directions. The results have been good, though.
But good or bad, we remain in the tiniest of samples, so that’s not really the point. Instead, we’re here today to talk about the Ian Happ extension that didn’t materialize this spring, albeit not for a lack of trying.
Jed Hoyer got into it with Sahadev Sharma at The Athletic:
“All that said, I don’t think you can overreact and push something that you don’t believe in, or you don’t think is the right thing for the club. I was glad we got to a good place with Nico. We weren’t (able to) with Ian, but that doesn’t preclude us in the future from doing that.”
….Hoyer didn’t rule out revisiting contract talks with Happ at some point — “I don’t want to sit here and say ‘we’re done’ and ‘it’s over’” — but both sides recognize the difficulties of negotiating during the season, especially when the player is so close to reaching free agency.
Even as Hoyer concedes that there’s always a chance negotiations could continue on, these and his later comments were all about the difficultly of getting that sort of thing done in-season.
Given what he know about how Hoyer said he felt on negotiating during the SPRING, I think it’s fair to say we’re just about wrapped on the possibility of something getting done before the winter (if at all): “We’re not trying to win the narrative,” Hoyer said. “The team has an objective. The player has an objective. Sometimes those meet up. Sometimes both sides stretch to get things done. And sometimes you’re sort of not able to see things exactly the same. It doesn’t mean one side is wrong or not. It’s hard to get deals done.”
For the Cubs, at least, Hoyer’s conclusion there is correct: it has been tough for them to get extensions done. Even Hoerner’s deal, for however happy we are to see it accomplished, extended his stay in Chicago by only one season. Maybe that’s best for all parties, truly, but it’s hardly the narrative-busting deal I think a lot of us were hoping to see.
So what’s next for Happ? Well, unfortunately, it’s probably all too familiar — for him and for us. Happ will play out this season, become trade bait in July if the Cubs are out of it, and likely hit free agency at the end of the year, when he’ll be one of the best bats available in a thin market. If the Cubs are close to contending mid-season, maybe he stays and gets/rejects the qualifying offer at the end of the year, netting the Cubs a draft pick. If they’re not, I presume an affordable, 28-year-old, Gold Glove, switch-hitting left fielder will be pretty easy to market (even if those sorts don’t usually generate massive trade returns).
It’s a shame. Really. Happ is still young and has become a far more consistent player on both sides of the ball and from both sides of the plate. It’s also quite clear that he wants to stay in Chicago. It’s also ALSO quite clear that the Cubs offense is lacking at the moment, and there aren’t many answers in free agency.
So in essence, without locking up Happ, Hoyer and the Cubs’ front office are gambling the 2024 offensive performance on the production and health of prospects like Brennen Davis, Matt Mervis, Alexander Canario, and Chris Morel, as well as the deployment of resources elsewhere (somehow?). And two of those prospects have already dealt with significant/time-costing injuries over the past year.