We reported here at CI three weeks ago that the Cubs were aggressively working to move Ian Happ and a more recent report ($) from Jeff Passan of ESPN says the Cubs “are likely to trade him.” Like Willson Contreras, who got emotional Monday evening when asked about what is almost certainly his final homestand with the Cubs, Happ is having a career-best season and has limited control with a team that doesn’t figure to pursue competitiveness in a meaningful way until after next season.
Happ’s 2.3 fWAR is easily the highest mark of his career and it’s nearly double what he put up last season (1.2) due to improved performance in nearly every aspect of his game. The only real knock is that the power hasn’t shown up this season with just nine homers and a .163 ISO that is well below his traditional level. But his improved performance from the right side of the plate, where his 159 wRC+ is at least 60 points higher than in any previous season, offsets the lack of pop.
Even if Happ falls off a bit from that pace, his production far exceeds his $6.85 million salary for this season and will almost certainly make an estimated $10 million figure for next year look like a bargain. Seems like something a team like the Cubs might like to build around, though they also want to strike while the iron is hot rather than watching Happ’s value fall like what happened with all three key players they moved last year.
There are manifold reasons for that drop, of course, but the fact of the matter is that one of the failings of Theo Epstein’s otherwise very successful tenure was in holding onto players too long. Rather than go down that rabbit trail, which has far too many branching paths of its own, let’s turn to what Passan wrote about Happ’s market.
Two things have become clear in the past week as trade talks picked up: Almost everyone wants Happ, and the Cubs are likely to trade him, according to sources. It makes sense. Happ, who turns 28 next month, is in the midst of an All-Star season. He’s a switch-hitter who after years of swinging far better from the left side is crushing left-handed pitchers this season, he’s a well-above-average defender in left field, and he won’t reach free agency until after the 2023 season.
Passan went on to note that a package deal involving Happ and David Robertson and/or Mychal Givens is “far likelier” than a trade for Happ alone. Dennis Lin of The Athletic had previously reported that the Padres were interested in both Happ and Contreras in a package deal, perhaps one that would finally result in picking up one of those “bad” contracts everyone was discussing in the offseason.
Any of those multi-player scenarios would undoubtedly net the Cubs a considerable haul, though it would have to include several MLB-ready players if the club wants to have any shot at being mediocre next season. Remember, this team has struggled all season with two clear All-Stars who are earning a combined $16.475 million. It will cost more than that to replace either one of them in free agency, let alone both, and the Cubs would still need to add other significant players.
With a week to go before the trade deadline and just one more home game at Wrigley for these players, these next few days are going to be very strange.