What Tom Ricketts comments mean for Ian Happ's Chicago Cubs future
The more time passes, the more it feels like contract extension talks are stalling for the Chicago Cubs. As it pertains to Ian Happ, there are only three scenarios in which the outcome can unfold: He signs an extension, he's traded, or he walks for nothing. The ramifications of options two and three are awful for the Cubs in different but apparent ways. You can picture a scenario where the front office is skeptical about offering top dollar to Happ after he had one very consistent season, which happened to come before a contract year. Understandably, in that regard, it is an expensive gamble. Nevertheless, Tom Ricketts recently weighed in and had a couple of things to say:
As it sits, we know Jed Hoyer has opted to keep discussions with Ian Happ and Nico Hoerner regarding an extension ongoing during Spring Training. Unfortunately, it feels like Deja vu, as we were just down this road with Willson Contreras last season. Speaking of Happ, we know the player he has become on the field, and everyone thinks highly of him. That being said, there's no reason to believe that bad blood will leak between the two sides. The problem isn't the relationship at all. The issue, from the front office side, ties into the future of the Cubs organization, mainly its top outfield prospects, and how much promise they show moving forward.
From Happ's perspective, a breakout season in 2022 couldn't have come at a more opportune with a free agent market that has recently been inflated to new extremes. Happ, the Cubs player union rep, knows it wouldn't be wise of him to sign an extension now, shorting himself perhaps the biggest payday he will garner that he has worked all his life for.
Chicago Cubs: What does it mean if an extension isn't done now?
If an extension were going to happen before the season started, it would have happened by now. The Cubs will be in a tricky situation if they are contending. If they are winning games as the deadline approaches, the last thing you want to do is trade away one of your best players because you know you won't get anything for him after the season. It's risky, but the best-case scenario is agreeing to revisit talks after the season before free agency gets underway next winter. That gives Happ a fair chance to alleviate any skepticism the front office may still have regarding his ability to play at an All-Star level consistently.
Tom Ricketts' comments signify a general willingness to extend Happ without detailing just how far they'd go to keep him around. At the very least, they will need to say they tried. Therefore, it could all be taken as clever wording. The fact is, if they wanted to keep Happ long-term, he would be locked up already.
Regardless, a considerable part of the front office's willingness to extend Happ will be determined by the outcome of the farm system this year. Suppose Brennen Davis and Alexander Canario return healthy this season, including another skyrocket-up-the-prospect-boards season from Pete Crow-Armstrong. In that case, the Cubs may see fit to cut costs and spend that money elsewhere. They have to be aware that Marcus Stroman is most likely gone after 2023 if he has a good year due to his player option. Therefore, starting rotation help will be needed, and it will be costly.
However the season unfolds, one thing cannot happen: Happ can't walk for free as Contreras did. Losing Contreras' bat in the lineup was a substantial blow, especially to receive nothing in return. They are in a very precarious spot, but if history repeats itself, the front office will have a lot of explaining to do next offseason.