It was already feeling pretty unlikely that the Cubs would be able to work out a long-term extension with Ian Happ, and that’s before the news broke that Manny Machado and the Padres had agreed to an 11-year, $350 million deal. Happ isn’t comparable to Machado in terms of position or production, of course, but the elimination of what would have been the second-biggest free agent in the upcoming market boosts Happ’s value a great deal.
BREAKING: Star third baseman Manny Machado and the San Diego Padres are finalizing an 11-year, $350 million contract extension, sources familiar with the deal tell ESPN. Machado helped turn around the franchise. He'll stay as the ascendant Padres seek their first championship.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) February 26, 2023
Shohei Ohtani is the clear unicorn of the class and there’s a huge gap from him to the next tier, but Happ now finds himself among a group that also includes Matt Chapman and Teoscar Hernández. Chapman gets a big boost from being the top option at third base, so Happ could be the best available outfielder as long as he puts up a consistent season with another solid defensive performance and maybe a little more pop. He’s two years younger than Hernández and being a switch-hitter helps as well.
I’ve played around with some estimates of what it would cost the Cubs to retain Happ’s services, but the left fielder and his agent are surely raising their asking price in light of Machado’s extension. That could have Jed Hoyer backing away pretty quickly, as the Cubs have several outfielders among their top prospects and could conceivably have two of them in Chicago this year.
With the way everything is shaping up at this point, I don’t expect Happ to leave Mesa a richer man. Knowing what we do about the Cubs’ general trouble getting extensions done and the lack of desire to negotiate during the season, it’s almost guaranteed Happ will either be traded or allowed to walk after the season. The flip side is that this does make it ever-so-slightly more likely — your mileage may vary as to how realistic that is — that the Cubs go after Ohtani.