Ian Happ's struggles complicate Chicago Cubs' outfield picture

Ian Happ's contract has the sniff of being the short-term version of Jason Heyward's deal.
San Diego Padres v Chicago Cubs
San Diego Padres v Chicago Cubs / Michael Reaves/GettyImages

When Chicago Cubs left fielder Ian Happ signed a three-year contract extension with the team ahead of the 2023 season, it was a sign that Happ had finally put the offensive inconsistencies behind him and was ready to be a core member of the next contention window for the Cubs.

Happ was coming off an All-Star campaign during the 2022 season where he also earned his first-career Gold Glove award for his play in left field.

Despite offensive struggles during the first half of the 2023 season, Happ managed to turn his season around with a stellar second half to the season. Happ finished 2023 with a 118 wRC+, 21 home runs, and 99 walks.

Where Happ's offensive profile left more to be desired was his power output. Happ's 14 home runs in the second half of last season carried his season total but his offensive numbers have once again dove off a cliff.

Happ has struggled to begin the 2024 season.

Through his first 153 plate appearances this season, Happ is slashing .225/.346/.302 with a 97 wRC+. Happ's 1 home run on the season, in addition to a .078 ISO rating, speaks to power regression that has occurred for the Cubs' left fielder.

Ian Happ's offensive profile clouds the future outlook for the Cubs' outfield.

Happ is still getting his walks, walking at a 15% clip this season, but his lack of power and increasing strikeout rate, 27.5% on the season, are giving the impression of a hitter that should be hitting ninth as opposed to the middle-of-the-order as he has been.

With Pete Crow-Armstrong already at the Major League level and making a case to continue his development at Wrigley Field for the remainder of the season, Happ's struggles may add a question mark to the Cubs' outfield picture for the long term. Once considered to be a lock in left field, Happ's offensive inconsistencies could lead the Cubs to be more willing to hold onto their plethora of top outfield prospects as opposed to using them as trade chips.

The Cubs remain confident that Happ will rebound in a similar way that he did last season but his struggles can only be catered to for so long. For a Cubs' team that is struggling to score runs, Happ needs to create runs on offense. Otherwise, $20MM is a hefty price for an outfielder who uses an outfield assist or two as a way to lay claim to being a Gold Glove award that is undeserving.