Chicago Cubs: Ian Happ – trade bait or a critical part of the future?

(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images) /

Former first-round pick Ian Happ has seen his share of highs and lows as a member of the Chicago Cubs, leaving many to wonder what the future may hold.

Having a switch-hitter capable of playing all over the diamond is a commodity that should never be taken for granted. Thankfully, that’s what the Cubs have enjoyed in recent years with Ian Happ, who finished the 2019 campaign on a major upswing after a tumultuous season.

Happ, who turned 25 in August, earned National League Player of the Week honors to close out the year. That may not sound like anything too special but when you consider he opened the year at Triple-A Iowa after Chicago shockingly optioned him ahead of Opening Day, it was a big moment for him and the organization.

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He hit .455 with four long balls and 10 RBI – which works out to a scorching 1.636 OPS. Over the course of the year, he improved his walk rate, slashed his strikeout tendencies and looked more and more like the player the Cubs envisioned him when selecting him with the ninth overall pick back in 2015.

"“Where I was [in early-September] to where my numbers sit now is nice. I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress,” he told NBC Sports Chicago in the final weekend of the season. “Been a lot of improvement and some of the ancillary numbers that people were worried about, they’re where they should be and they’re more normal, more regulated. I thought last year they were inflated. To have some of those numbers in the right spots and see the success on the field is important.”"

That success may very well translate to an opportunity to once again win one of the outfield spots in 2020. Happ has a great deal of experience in the outfield and at second base, where the team could also use some help. Top prospect Nico Hoerner filled in up the middle last year, but with Javier Baez healthy and back at short, Chicago may opt to let Hoerner finish his development at Triple-A to open the year.

Robel Garcia came on strong before fading down the stretch and no one really seems to know where David Bote is best suited, although I personally think he’s the internal favorite at second. But don’t sleep on Happ as a potential heir to free agent Ben Zobrist, who has not yet committed to playing again in 2020.

We know change is coming to the North Side in the weeks and months to come. At least, that’s the message we’ve heard ad nauseam from those in the organization. Last season’s 84-win performance solidified the shortcomings of this roster and its current construction and Theo Epstein knows he has work to do to get the team back the postseason.

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As intriguing as Happ is as a member of the club moving forward (he’s under team control through 2023), he’ll also draw attention as a potential trade chip for those same reasons. He’s a young switch-hitter, capable of playing all over the diamond with long-term control.

It’s not hard to see why, despite his late-season surge, Ian Happ could be the odd man out come Opening Day next March.