Cubs Roster

Chicago Cubs: Will Ian Happ’s hot streak guarantee him a 2022 roster spot?

(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images) /
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It’s not often one asks him/herself whether or not a guy who has an OPS north of 1.100 over the last month will be on a team’s roster next season, but it’s a question worth examining when it comes to Ian Happ and the Chicago Cubs.

At this point, the former first-round pick has come surging back to a 100 OPS+, meaning he’s been exactly league average offensively this year. That might not sound like much, but when you consider the fact he had a .626 OPS in the first half, you get a pretty good idea just how strong a performer he’s been down the stretch.

During the season’s first few months, Happ felt that he wasn’t getting results that aligned with his approach at the plate. He was insistent that, with time, the numbers would be there. It took longer than he or Chicago might have liked, but in the end, the outfielder was correct. Since the All-Star Break, Happ is hitting .272/.340/.554 – including a sizzling .359/.414/.719 here in the month of September.

But with less than two weeks left in the 2021 season, Happ’s fate moving forward, at least to me, is anything but certain. Jed Hoyer cut ties with another outfielder just last season – someone who was capable of getting hot and putting the team on his back – but never found the consistency the Cubs were looking for in Kyle Schwarber.

Of course, that decision – at least at surface level – seemed to be at least partially motivated by ownership’s unpublicized mandate to cut the baseball operations budget. That meant trading the NL Cy Young runner-up, as well as his backup catcher, saying goodbye to Schwarber and letting Jon Lester walk, rather than bring him back to close out his career.

Things shouldn’t be that dire this winter, given there have been fans in the stands this year – although attendance has been spotty, at best, in the second half. So the decision on Happ, at least in theory, will come down to production – and the team’s plethora of needs this offseason. What does all that mean? Well, in short, it bodes well for Happ being on the Opening Day roster next spring.

Chicago Cubs have nothing to gain by giving up on Ian Happ this winter

Jason Heyward might not play another game this season after suffering a concussion in a baserunning collision a week ago. But he’ll be back for the final two years of his mega-deal that runs through 2023. Rafael Ortega will likely return given the job he’s done this year (.787 OPS) as will Patrick Wisdom, although the majority of his reps have come in the infield.

In other words, there’s a clear spot for Happ – at least right now – on this roster. Given just how hot he’s been to close out the year and the fact that, even after a raise in arbitration, he won’t earn much more than in the $6 to $8 million range (he makes $4.1 this season) – the risk of cutting bait and running far outweighs the financial savings for Hoyer and the Chicago Cubs.

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Considering the dire needs in the rotation, it’s a safe bet the front office focuses its efforts (and resources) there this winter. Happ seems to have gotten hot at the right time – so much so that it’ll likely keep him in the Windy City again next season, something that seemed like a near-impossibility a few months back.

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