Ian Happ seems like a prime Chicago Cubs extension target going forward.
So far, the 2020-21 offseason for the Chicago Cubs has been primarily focused on the future and particularly on saving money. The already-infamous Yu Darvish trade succeeded at offloading $59 million of the $62 million remaining on his contract alongside receiving some far-off prospects. Combine that with several major free agent losses and the non-tender of Kyle Schwarber and the Cubs now have a lot more financial room to work in the near future.
Some of the money needs to go towards extensions. Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez are no doubt among the prime targets of the team, but Ian Happ is an interesting case to look at and is in a spot where an extension makes a lot of sense. Over the last couple of years, he’s shown what he’s capable of at his best, but there is still some concern as to whether he can keep it up.
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Last year, Happ had the best season of his young career, posting a 131 OPS+ in 198 at-bats, marking a continuation of his late season comeback in 2019. Much of his 2020 performance was powered by a scorching hot August where his OPS was over 1.000 and his slugging percentage reached .640. For what it’s worth, he even received a down-ballot MVP vote for his stellar offense with the Cubs.
Between both years, Happ had a slash line of .260/.350/.530, but this is still a small sample size. 2020 also ended on a pretty horrid note for him as his slash line was a mere .213/.286/.360 over his last 23 games. That said, he’s spent his whole career with above average hard hit percentage, exit velocity, and barrel percentage, as well as an above average walk percentage. This is also without discussing his fielding which, across all outfield positions, has only resulted in manageable -5 DRS. There’s too much of a high upside for the team to not consider an extension.
While the Cubs are more likely to wait a year or so with Happ since he still has a few years of arbitration left, they could buy out his remaining years in hopes they can get his best years for cheap, similar to what the Braves accomplished with Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies.
The deal would likely aim for five to six years with an option to give newer pieces like those included in the Padres haul and Ed Howard time to come up. Somewhere around $48 million with incentives could strike that team-friendly angle, assuming Happ would pass up arbitration and the chance to further prove himself.
I don’t believe the Cubs are too concerned about a Happ extension at this point in time (and I don’t see a world where Ian Happ doesn’t bet on himself in arbitration), but I do think this is a good opportunity to learn from what other teams around the league have done with young, promising talent. It’s better they lock up Happ to an affordable deal right now before he, too, falls out of their price range.