Cubs are punting on 2023 if they trade Ian Happ

(Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
(Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) /

It’s no secret to Cubs fans – Willson Contreras and David Robertson, the team’s two top trade candidates, are sure to be gone before the deadline comes. Even Kyle Hendricks is a threat to leave, despite his struggles the last two years. Anything that’s not bolted to the floor is up for sale once again and, given the total collapse of this team, that’s fair.

What is REALLY not going to sit well, however, is an Ian Happ trade. I know, Happ has been a wildly inconsistent, streaky player throughout his Cubs tenure. In the past, his defense has been quite spotty in the outfield as well. For every fault he has though, he’s been a very solid player when accounting for everything, and this year, he’s hit a new level.

Happ owns a 114 career OPS+, which is already pretty solid all things considered, but this year? His 134 OPS+, buoyed by a different approach that limits strikeouts to the lowest rate of his career, places him among the best outfielders in the game. He looks like a completely different hitter this year with his newfound discipline. Heck, he’s even sporting a .925 OPS against lefties! As recent as last offseason, we discussed if he should just give up the switch-hitting ghost.

Alas, Happ, too, is a part of trade rumors. That’s not entirely unexpected, but the degree to which it’s happening is frightening. Don’t get me wrong – Happ would bring a significant return. With an extra year of control, there are teams who’ll be willing to pay up, even if they are scared by the bouts of streakiness. But trading him would really slam the door on 2023, even more so than offloading Contreras’ expiring contract.

2023 Cubs being remotely competitive gets less likely without Ian Happ

Already, the Cubs have just so much to add if they want to get to a good spot for next year. Happ is a quality big league outfielder overall and even with him, they could do with another addition out there. At the very least with Contreras, you could make the argument he wasn’t going to be a Cub beyond 2022 anyway. Trading Happ just makes the work they have to do next offseason even harder, especially since you can’t totally rely on Brennen Davis to be immediately good coming off back surgery.

Whatever you get for Happ will speak for the future too. If it’s anything other than a truly superb deal with the potential for near-term returns, it will be even harder for Jed Hoyer to say this isn’t a full rebuild. Trading an extra year of control with a legitimate MLB outfielder for as yet unproven lottery tickets screams punting next year away. It continues the narrative of this team being unwilling to invest money in extensions for proven players on the roster. What kind of message does that send to the slew of free agents you NEED to entice to be decent next year?

Next. Cubs need to turn things over to the kids on the mound. dark

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Trading Robertson is a given. Trading Contreras, while incredibly infuriating, also seems assured given the expiring contract and doesn’t preclude an offseason reunion. However, trading Happ, along with those moves, leaves no room for interpretation. There is no going back for this team if they punt a useful player for the future for anything other than a clear bowl-me-over offer. This decision could well be the figurative rubicon for the rebuild.