Cubs, Ian Happ fail to agree to a new deal; gap reportedly quite small

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

There was plenty of Cubs news to cap off the work week, with the signing of top international prospect Cristian Hernandez and Friday’s salary arbitration deadline that culminated in agreements with Zach Davies, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Willson Contreras.

But there was one arbitration holdout in Cubs outfielder Ian Happ. The former first-rounder put together a breakout campaign, of sorts, during the shortened 2020 season and, for multiple reasons, he’s looking to max out what he can get in arbitration.

First off he’s the team’s MLBPA rep. His salary will be a benchmark in future cases. So, if Happ comes in closer to the $4.1 million he’s seeking rather than the $3.25 Chicago countered with, that bodes well for young ballplayers everywhere. Second, it’s his first trip through arbitration – so this is the ‘jumping’ off point for his future salaries, if you will.

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Like everything else to come out of 2020, the case is interesting. You have more variables than ever before in it: the season was just 60 games, there were no fans in the stands and the in-game experience featured countless changes that impacted the performance of scores of ballplayers.

Despite it all, Happ looked like a potential National League MVP candidate for much of the year. In the month of August (which, if you’ll remember was the first full month of the 2020 season), he turned in a 1.079 OPS, anchoring a Cubs lineup that looked listless more often than not.

Now, it seems pretty unlikely the team and Happ work something out before this heads to a hearing. It’s just very uncommon in today’s game. But with the organization pushing for a new youth movement, could this open the door to a potential long-term deal?

Happ doesn’t turn 27 until August. He’s a switch-hitting player capable of playing in both the outfield and infield, if needed. While we’re talking about potential trades of Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras, there’s been zero rumors around Happ. It stands to reason he could be part of the Cubs’ long-term plans given his youth and versatility.

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Whether or not that comes to fruition remains to be seen. The good news is, even without a long-term agreement, Happ has several years of team control remaining and is relatively cost-controlled. Should this head to a hearing – the gap, in the grand scheme of things, is pretty small and shouldn’t be a sore point for either sidebar regardless of how things play out.