Chicago Cubs: Does the presence of Ian Happ make Javier Baez more expendable?

May 18, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs second baseman Javier Baez (9) forces out Cincinnati Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart (16) at second base during the fifth inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
May 18, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs second baseman Javier Baez (9) forces out Cincinnati Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart (16) at second base during the fifth inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports /

The Chicago Cubs weren’t expected to call up Ian Happ, one of their top prospects, so soon, but with core players missing time he has arrived. What impact could this have on the team, and in particular, Javier Baez?

Calling up one of the best prospects in the majors is an exciting thing for a franchise and its fans. But with it also comes some tough decisions. That’s the situation the Chicago Cubs now find themselves in.

Ian Happ, who made his big-league debut last Sunday, is currently ranked second among all Cubs prospects and 23rd among all MLB prospects on With Jason Heyward on the DL and Kris Bryant having missed time with an illness, Happ has come up and made the most of his opportunity.

Since joining the team, Happ has slashed .333/.462/.714 with two home runs and four RBI through six games. That’s a small sample size, but you only get one chance at a first impression, and Happ has certainly made a good one so far. In those six games, he’s batted cleanup four times and in the two-spot twice. At 22 years old, he’s handled the pressure of hitting at the top of the lineup exceedingly well.

What does this mean for Javier Baez

It’s time to have a tough discussion about Javier Baez. Ian Happ’s presence could be threatening Baez’s long-term security with the Cubs. The consensus among fans before the season started seemed to be that the Chicago Cubs would eventually trade Ian Happ for a starting pitcher.

What if that doesn’t end up being the case? What if instead, Javier Baez is traded, and Happ becomes a regular starter with the team?

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With Happ on the team, the Chicago Cubs now have three players who could all be the everyday second baseman. So, between Baez, Happ and Ben Zobrist, somebody is the odd-man-out. Maybe not right now, but at some point, a decision on who “the man” is will have to be made.

What gives Baez a leg up?

It feels like Javier Baez has been in the league for a long time (he made his major league debut in 2014), but the reality is he’s still young and relatively unproven as a hitter. With a career slash line of .242/.286/.397, you’re still banking on him realizing his potential.

How is that any different than Ian Happ’s situation? If your argument is that Happ hasn’t proven himself, then what is Baez proving with his career 81 wRC+, .286 OBP and 4.4 walk percentage?

I was interested to see from my Twitter followers who would be open to the idea of trading Baez at some point:

Even with a relatively small sample size of votes, 46 percent answering “no” is pretty telling of how fans feel about Baez. From the moment he made his MLB debut, Cubs fans were hooked. He plays with tremendous intensity and is a human highlight reel on defense. Beyond that, he’s got such an infectious personality; it’s almost impossible not to like him.

But you have to ask yourself, why is Javier Baez untouchable? As a hitter, he’s still got a long ways to go. Could he mature into the hitter people think he can be? He most certainly could. But it’s also possible he continues to hit .240, strike out at an above-average rate, and seldom walk.

When Baez is on his game, he’s as fun to watch as anyone, but the numbers show that, overall, he’s been an offensive liability so far. Again, it’s entirely possible he figures things out at some point. But we’re nearing the time when the Cubs’ front office will have to decide if they want to make that gamble.

What does the future hold?

Should the Cubs trade Baez right now? Absolutely not. That would be a huge mistake on their part. But fans should be open to the possibility that he might be used as a trade chip down the road.

Some would argue Happ has a higher floor and ceiling than Baez. At this point, the only thing Baez has more of than Happ is games played. Baez has shown flashes of the type of player he could be, but he’s yet to prove he can consistently be that guy.

This isn’t to say Happ is a sure thing. After all, he’s only six games into his big-league career. But don’t count out the possibility of Happ winding up as the long-term second baseman for the Cubs. If that ends up being the case, the Cubs aren’t going to hold onto Baez to be a backup.

Of course, Happ could end up playing a different position if he became a regular starter. Maybe the Cubs trade Kyle Schwarber and put Happ in left field and keep Baez at second? That’s a different discussion, but it’s still a potential scenario.

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Keep an open mind

Nothing is forever. As beloved as he is by the North Side faithful, Baez is not a lock to be part of the Cubs’ core in the years to come. Neither is Happ, but bursting onto the scene in such a big way has certainly made for an interesting discussion.

Whatever ends up happening, the Cubs have two players with worlds of potential in Ian Happ and Javier Baez.