Friday, April 19, 2024

Ian Happ Wins First Gold Glove, Puts Pressure On Cubs To Extend Him


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Ian Happ took home the Gold Glove for National League Left fielder yesterday, putting a bow on a fantastic individual season.  Ian is the first Cub to win a Gold Glove since Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.  Following a year where Happ made his first All-Star team, the Cubs need to commit to the future or risk infuriating a fanbase that has been simmering for 2+ years.

Ian Happ’s 2022

Ian Happ entered this season following the “worst” of his young career.  In 2021, Happ saw his average drop below .230 and his defensive WAR was -0.6.  Happ managed to hit a career-high 25 Home runs in 2021, but almost every other aspect of his game regressed.

2022 saw a completely new Ian Happ.  From the offensive standpoint; he increased doubles from 20 to 42, batting average from .226 to .271, drove in 6 more runs, and increased OPS+ from 103 to 119.  His BB/K ratio improved slightly, but the biggest change for Happ was defensive.

In the first 5 years of his career, the best dWAR that Happ turned in was 0.2, and his career was -1.5.  In 2022, Happ added a 0.8 dWAR to give him a 4.3 WAR on the year.  Happ’s previous high WAR was 1.6, part of that has been his struggles on defense.

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In 2022, Happ took advantage of being the everyday left fielder.  He had played all over the outfield and some time in the infield but this year he played all of his innings, except for 12, in left.  Happ was able to add 8 outfield assists, a career-high, as well as finish with 13 defensive runs saved, the second-highest in baseball among left fielders.

In summation, Ian Happ wrapped up his best offensive and defensive season in 2022.  He enters 2023 arbitration-eligible but will hit free agency in 2024.  What do the Cubs need to do to lock down Happ in a Cubs’ uniform for years to come?

Cubs Outfield Situation

Seiya Suzuki seems to be the Cubs’ right fielder for years to come following a successful rookie season.  Center will be interesting as Christopher Morel looks to get a consistent position similar to Happ in 2022.  Nelson Velasquez and Narciso Crook are both projected to be AAA players but have shown the ability to play outfield.

Prospects Alexander Canario and Brennen Davis are both hurt with the former’s timeline being indefinite.  Davis will miss the rest of the Arizona Fall League with back tightness, Canario broke his ankle and injured his shoulder trying to beat out a grounder.  Injured prospects with an unknown timetable mean that the Cubs’ outfield, which already had question marks, needs an answer even more urgently.

The best way to estimate Happ’s contract is by looking at other left fielders.  30-year-old Kyle Schwarber signed a 4-year/$80 m deal in the offseason.  32-year-old Marcell Ozuna is 4 year/$65m and has a club option for 2025. 31-year-old Christian Yelich is currently robbing Milwaukee with a 7-year/$188 m contract.

Happ outperformed all of these players in 2022 and is only 28 years old.  Happ also offers switch-hitting ability which helps make the lineup tough for either left-handed or right-handed pitchers.  The Cubs need to look at a contract in the neighborhood of 5 years/$100 m.

Comparing the $20m/year to Schwarber’s deal makes sense in my opinion, Happ does not offer 45 home runs a year, but Happ’s defense is much better than Schwarber’s -2.0 dWAR from this year.

Building Blocks

Extending Happ through 2028 really would set the Cubs up for future success.  We know Pete Crow-Armstrong is coming up in the next few years, the infield prospects have also been exciting.  After acquiring young pitching at this year’s trade deadline and hopefully some free agent spending this summer, the pitching should be bolstered.

Relief and starting pitching needs to get fixed before the Cubs can expect post-season success.  Locking down Happ while we have Suzuki signed through 2026 gives more money to spend in free agency.

At a time when the fanbase is questioning whether the front office listens to what they say, extending a longtime fan favorite would go far in rebuilding a relationship between fans and management that is “strained” to say the least.

Happ wants to be here, the fans want Happ here, and it’s time for management to stop crying poor and spend money like a team that wants to win.  Go Cubs Go.

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