The Cubs haven’t established a great track record of extending their core players, leading them to rebuild the team primarily with either prospects or free agents. Assuming Willson Contreras ends up signing a deal elsewhere, Kyle Hendricks is the only remaining member from the 2016 World Series roster. Ian Happ is the longest-tenured position player and he is entering his final year of arbitration eligibility after almost being traded at this year’s deadline.
Sticking around for the second half didn’t change the trajectory of Contreras’s departure, but the Cubs may have had a change of heart with Happ. Between a relatively barren free agent market and the uncertainty of prospect development — especially when it comes to big injuries — the Gold Glove left fielder’s value to the club is as high as it’s ever been.
He’s reiterated time and again that he loves it in Chicago, so working something out that makes sense for both sides is entirely doable. Nico Hoerner likewise boosted his value with an All-Star-worthy performance at short and he looks like a big part of the future even if the Cubs shift him to second. That’s why, as Sahadev Sharma and Patrick Mooney reported, the team is “expected to seriously engage” both players in extension talks this winter.
“Certainly, when you think about where we’re spending money or building a team, we absolutely have people in-house we want to extend beyond where their arbitration years are,” Jed Hoyer said back in August. “I think that’s without question.”
Those discussions could get underway fairly soon as Hoyer and his front office seek to clarify their areas of need. There’s also the matter of keeping ongoing negotiations from bleeding into baseball activities, something the president of baseball operations spoke about during the GM Meetings.
“Don’t hold me to this, but I don’t really love negotiating in spring training,” Hoyer told reporters. “The more I do it, the more I think it causes real tension. Guys want to start the season. I’ve watched many deals fall apart in spring training. I just don’t think it’s a great way to start the season. I think I’d like to push that up a little bit.”
Because Hoerner has a much shorter track record and three years of club control, it should be easier and cheaper to work out an extension with him. Then again, the Cubs might need to see what they’re able to get done with a shortstop in free agency first. From the sound of it, Hoerner is more than willing to talk turkey.
“I talked to Nico Hoerner’s agent today,” Jess Rogers told Waddle & Silvy last week. “He loves it there, he’s probably gonna sign up long-term.”
Happ also has a strong affinity for the organization and city, plus he’s got myriad local endorsement deals that might not be as easy to maintain or replace if he left Chicago. He’s like a discount version of Anthony Rizzo in that regard, just with a little less ego and national cachet. I don’t think we’re looking at something happening before the new year, but January or early February seems like a safe bet.