Cubs could pursue Northwestern alum J.A. Happ in free agency

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

Illinois native and Northwestern alum J.A. Happ could make sense for the Cubs.

We’re going to spend a good long while talking about potential free agent targets for the Chicago Cubs this offseason, especially when it comes to the starting rotation. Given the payroll limitations facing most clubs, including Chicago, we’re not going to entertain delusions about Trevor Bauer because it’s just not in the cards.

But that’s not to say the team couldn’t add some quality arms in the weeks and months to come. I’ve covered a few already, including former Cub Jeff Samardzija, once-heralded right-hander Chris Archer and familiar face and left-handed veteran Cole Hamels. Another guy to keep an eye on given he’s from the Land of Lincoln and attended Northwestern? Southpaw J.A. Happ.

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Happ, 38, is a short-term solution, to be sure. But he showed again in 2020 that he’s still got something to offer. He worked to a 3.47 ERA and 1.054 WHIP in nine starts for the Yankees, although I admit his 4.57 FIP is a little bit troubling.

MLB Trade Rumors has the lefty pegged for a one-year, $8 million deal. I personally doubt he’ll get that much. I’m thinking it’ll be closer to $5-6 million given the circumstances surrounding the offseason. Still, that’s definitely within the budget for Chicago, especially with Jon Lester’s contract coming off the books.

Here’s what MLBTR has to say about the longtime rotation piece:

"Though he managed a 3.47 ERA this year, he has a 4.68 SIERA dating back to 2019, including a 1.79 HR/9 rate.  Happ’s All-Star 2018 season isn’t too far in the rearview, however, and he’ll make a solid back of the rotation piece.  His case is bolstered somewhat by Statcast, with 65th percentile hard hit rate and 75th percentile barrel rate this year."

In his career, Happ has pitched with six teams – the Yankees, Phillies, Jays, Astros, Pirates and Mariners. He’s seen his shares of ups and downs over the years, but could be a nice solution in 2021 for a team like the Cubs as they allow guys like Brailyn Marquez to continue developing rather than rushing them to the big leagues out of desperation.

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Given his local ties and the fact that he’s approaching the end of his career, Happ might be intrigued with the idea of coming home and playing at Wrigley Field next summer. He’s not an ace – he never has been – but the Cubs need quality and that’s something Happ has delivered throughout his career.