The Chicago Cubs Have Agreed to Sign Ian Happ to a Three-Year Extension
The Chicago Cubs are an organization that extends guys now. Can we say that? I mean, it’s two extensions in just a few weeks!
Today, the Cubs and outfielder Ian Happ have come to terms on an extension that will pay him $61 million over the next three seasons, per our Michael Cerami, meaning he’s now with the Cubs through the 2026 season.
Happ is making $10.85 million this year, in what would’ve been his final season before free agency. So you can either think about this deal as three years and $61 million kicking in after this season (that’s how it’ll be accounted for in terms of AAV and luxury tax), or you can think about it as a four-year, $72 million deal. It’s kind of both, and it doesn’t REALLY matter. The new guaranteed years and the AAV is really all that matters going forward.
To that end, at first blush, this looks like a very good deal for Ian Happ. Firstly, a $20 million AAV for a left fielder is quite high – only Christian Yelich and Juan Soto have higher AAVs right now as left fielders. I think it’s fair that Happ is in that range (slightly higher than Kyle Schwarber, for example, and quite a bit higher than Andrew Benintendi), but it’s a good get for him. Arguably moves the market a little bit for left fielders, actually.
On the flip side, the Cubs are probably happy that the deal is just three years after 2023. Not only do they get Happ’s first three free agent years at ages 29, 30, and 31, they also limit their exposure to the years that get riskier as a guy moves deeper into his 30s. They also limit the length of time that Happ could be locked into a particular spot in the outfield, in case other young outfielders force the issue over the next couple years. You never want to have a $20 million fourth outfielder, but if that were to happen, (1) it’d probably be a good problem to have, and (2) you’re realistically talking only about a year or two of that.
The news makes me happy in at least a few ways.
First, I’m just happy because this is a good move for the Cubs. Happ has become an important part of the lineup, seems to be more established in who he is at the plate, and his best years – aging curve – figure to come during the window of this deal. It’s not like this offseason figures to be loaded with top free agents at the plate, either, so it’s nice to keep one of the better ones around before he even reaches the market.
Furthermore, even though the Cubs are loaded with outfield prospects, you can’t assume one or more will DEFINITELY be ready to step up in the next year or two, let alone reproduce what Happ is giving you. This provides those prospects more of a buffer.
Second, I’m happy because – like the Nico Hoerner deal – this is another signal from the front office about what they’re trying to do with the current group. They want to keep key players in place, and they want to extend guys where it makes sense to do so. There’s something to “deal momentum,” and there’s definitely something to being able to share with other players – free agents or guys you want to sign internally – that they’ll know for sure who they are signing up to play with for the next several years.
Here’s how I made that point with the Hoerner extension, which will cover the same years as Happ’s deal:
The priority here was about having Hoerner firmly in place for the next four years, which allows the Cubs – and internal/external other players – to see more pieces in place. There’s a comfort in knowing, if you’re going to consider an extension, there are respected guys in place with whom you’ll be playing, who were ALSO comfortable signing an extension. This deal can be used to send a message to other young players you want to extend: these are the great guys you’re going to be with for years to come.
To that point, I would add that providing the security of four CERTAIN years – as opposed to the uncertainty of arbitration (it’s not guaranteed if there is an injury or drastic change in performance) and even free agency – could be a value to Hoerner as a human being. There could be an exhale there that benefits Hoerner, and also maybe the Cubs by way of his performance.
I think some measure of continuity – and projected continuity – is going to be a good thing for the Cubs. Seiya Suzuki’s deal also runs through 2026, by the way,
Lastly, I’m happy about the news because I just like it as a fan. Ultimately, that’s kind of what all of it is about for those of us on the outside who get into sports, right?
We just want to enjoy the thing we’re experiencing, and I have come to really enjoy watching Happ play. I like that he’s improved so much defensively in left field. I like that he’s a switch-hitter who has leveled his game on both sides of the plate. I like that he’s become a vocal part of the team, and I like that he’s become an increasingly visible part of Chicago. It’s a lot of what I liked, as a fan, about so many guys in the last core, and that’s a big part of why it was such a bummer that extensions never got done. I can make the argument that none of those deals would’ve been good for the Cubs in this way or that way, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to miss the players as a fan.
Today is a good day. I’m very happy about this news, and that Happ is among the Cubs who’ll now be around for several more years.