If Ian Happ‘s three-year extension isn’t the most surprising development in the last decade or so of Cubs history, it’s on a very short list that also includes Dexter Fowler showing up to spring training in 2016 with a new deal. Between Jed Hoyer’s rhetoric about wanting to have any deals done prior to the spring report dates and a free agent market in which Happ would have been a top commodity, it had looked for quite a while as though hope was dead.
As we learned yesterday, there was a faint pulse all the while. The $61 million contract for Happ, which begins next year, resembles the deal the Cubs worked out with Nico Hoerner for $35 million over the same period. Though the left fielder will earn about $9 million more annually, he’s been in the league quite a bit longer and would have reached free agency sooner. So even if the $20.33 million AAV is perhaps on the high side of estimates for his future contract, the deal makes a ton of sense for all involved.
The Cubs not only secure the services of their All-Star Gold Glove-winning outfielder through his age-31 season, but they also maintain one of the last remaining links to their previous competitive unit. Happ has grown as both a player and personality, improving his game while launching a successful podcast and repping several different local businesses.
The fact that he was willing to accept such a short term with no options lends credence to what he’s said the whole time about loving the Cubs organization and the City of Chicago.
“I’m just super excited to be here,” Happ told reporters after Wednesday’s loss. “This is a place I’ve called home since 2015. The city, the fan base, has meant so much to me throughout my career, and the fact that I get to continue to be here, continue to be a Cub and represent the organization, means the world to me.”
Not that this decision was entirely altruistic, mind you. With $61 million guaranteed from 2024-26, Happ will hit the market again ahead of his age-32 season with a very real possibility of at least matching that figure. Doing so would net him over $120 for six years or more, which is beyond what most folks had estimated for him. Happ’s been undervalued for a while, though, to the point where more than a few fans overlook his production.
Despite inconsistent play at times, he’s never put up lower than a 105 wRC+ or 1.0 fWAR in any season since his debut in 2017. He’s worked hard at his craft and, after finally getting a chance to play nearly every day at one position, he became an excellent defensive player. Happ is far from perfect, obviously, but he offers the organization a veteran building block at a time when prospects are going to be pushing up to the majors more regularly.
“The rewarding thing is just how far, in my opinion, Ian’s come and the hard work he’s put in and making himself such a well-rounded player,” David Ross said. “He’s a big part of our leadership here. He’s a big part of what I think we’re going to become as an organization and a team.”
In addition to signaling the distinct possibility of trades involving one or more of the Cubs’ heralded outfield prospects, this further solidifies the belief that Jed Hoyer plans to really go for it over the next three-plus seasons. That’s the duration of contractual certainty for the quartet of Happ, Hoerner, Seiya Suzuki, and Dansby Swanson, plus it offers plenty of time for the team’s pitching infrastructure to bear the fruit that never came during their last run.
The next big step will be the transition from temporary players like Cody Bellinger, Eric Hosmer, and, to an extent, Trey Mancini into a younger core group. Landing Shohei Ohtani would represent a great leap as well, though that’s not really the kind of move you can bank the future on at this point. What we can say for certain is that Happ will be around through 2026 to get a chance at the title he didn’t get to be a part of 10 years earlier.