Andrew Benintendi Trade Could Clarify Ian Happ Market as Deadline Nears

There’s a sense around baseball that a potential Juan Soto blockbuster is holding up the overall trade market, but we got an indication Wednesday night that there are plenty of moves to be made whether or not Soto is dealt. The Yankees made the first real splash of deadline season by prying Andrew Benintendi from the Royals, which may signal that they’re out on Soto. It may also have clarified the market for Ian Happ due to the similarities in position and production.

While Benintendi and Happ have significant differences in their strikeout rates and batting averages, they are separated by just 0.3 fWAR and a single wRC+ point (both in Happ’s favor). Neither has a big advantage in the field, though Happ has a slight edge in defensive runs saved in left this season. Where Happ really separates himself from his colleague is with his power, his ability to switch-hit, and his additional year of contractual control.

Put all those things together and it’s easy to see how the Cubs would be able to extract a bigger return than what the Royals just received from the Yankees, and that’s before you consider the possibility of bundling a righty reliever in the deal. In order to upgrade their outfield, the Yankees parted with pitching prospects T.J. Sikkema (LHP, No. 19 on, Beck Way (RHP, No. 21), and Chandler Champlain (RHP).

Way is ranked No. 13 by Baseball America and profiles as a mid-rotation starter, while the other two have very solid profiles as strike-throwers. Sikkema and Champlain are both 23 and have mid-90’s stuff with good breaking balls, but they’re pitching at different A-ball levels and seem more like safe options than big risk/reward guys.

With obvious allowances for the various organizational profiles of potential Happ suitors, this feels like a return the Cubs should easily be able to top. I would also guess Jed Hoyer, Carter Hawkins, and the rest of their evaluators would be looking for higher upside in the prospects they’d get back in return. It was clear from the draft that they prefer getting toolsy pitchers who might need a little polish, something they’ve been working toward for several years after experiencing nothing but disappointment from the conservative approach they employed in the past.

I’m not going to comb through the farm systems of each team that might have interest in Happ because I’d basically just be picking names at random, but the Cubs almost certainly have a list of targets. The Benintendi trade may allow the Cubs to get more aggressive with their asks as well because Happ was already a hot commodity and he just got that much hotter. A team like the Braves — whose system lacks a lot of obvious top-end talent — might be pressed into getting a little uncomfortable to address their own needs in left.

And whether it’s Happ or perhaps Willson Contreras, the Mets are clearly operating from a little-brother perspective in New York and won’t want the Yankees taking all the headlines. Neither team is too concerned with the luxury tax and both are hellbent on winning, so I’d expect Steve Cohen to authorize any moves necessary to ensure Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom have adequate run support.

I still don’t think we see a whole lot of moves ahead of the weekend, but the pace of talks should pick up dramatically in the next two days.

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