What does the Ian Happ extension mean for the 2023 Chicago Cubs?
Ian Happ will be in a Chicago Cubs uniform for the next three and a half seasons after he and the team reached a contract extension earlier this week. Fans and players rejoiced after the move as Happ is seemingly loved universally on and off the field. But what does this deal exactly mean for the team's goals in 2023?
The Cubs are trying to compete
Clearly, there is something to be said about the Cubs extending both Happ and Nico Hoerner, two of their star players. The Cubs are making a statement that they are ready to stop the quasi-rebuild they began at the 2021 deadline and try to mount a return to the playoffs. The Milwaukee Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals are the two teams in the NL Central standing in their way, but those teams have severe flaws. The Cardinals' pitching staff is currently struggling big time while the Brewers lack offensive star power. The Cubs could take advantage of their base running and defensive strengths to squeak out a division win. That is virtually the only way to the playoffs as a Wild Card spot will be extremely hard to secure with the loaded teams in the NL East and West. Even if a playoff run isn't in the cards this year, Happ's extension makes the future clearer and a focus on winning is all but confirmed.
The Cubs will be buyers at the deadline
With this move, the new core is set for at least the next three years as Happ, Hoerner Seiya Suzuki, and Jameson Taillon are now slated to reach free agency at the same time after the 2026 season. Not to mention Dansby Swanson's 7-year deal. This likely means that the Cubs are done selling at trade deadlines moving forward, and will be looking to add difference-makers instead of selling their good players. The Cubs boast a lot of depth on both sides of the ball but could use more star power to really push them over the edge and make a push for the playoffs. A solid number 1 starting pitcher would be welcome as well as power-hitting corner infielders.
With Happ and Suzuki locked in at the corner outfield spots, and center field likely belonging to Pet Crow-Armstrong for the foreseeable future, the Cubs can use the rest of their outfield depth as trade chips. Alexander Canario, Brendan Davis, Kevin Alcantara, and Owen Caissie could each make fine trade chips in a deadline deal. There is a wealth of pitching prospects to ship out as well, giving the Cubs a lot of options to make moves this year.
The Cubs have faith in Happ
Happ is no stranger to struggling at the big league level, as he was demoted to Triple-A prior to the 2019 season. Ever since Happ earned his way back to the bigs, he has blossomed into a leader in the Cubs' clubhouse and a solid contributor on the field. In fact, 2022 was arguably the best season of Happ's tenure in Chicago as he set career highs in hits (155), runs (72), doubles (42), and RBIs (72) while making an All-Star appearance and taking home a gold glove. The Cubs just proved that they are confident in Happ's abilities on the field to give him $20 million a year. It is a welcome sight to see the front office invest in a proven player since fans love to watch Happ play and he seems to enjoy calling Chicago his home.