For the second time in a month, the Cubs have locked up a homegrown hitter whom Theo Epstein and his scouts targeted at the top of a draft. Switch-hitting outfielder Ian Happ and the team have agreed to a three-year, $61 million deal, according to reports by Bleacher Nation’s Michael Cerami and ESPN’s Jeff Passan.
Infielder Nico Hoerner had previously agreed to a three-year, $35 million deal late in spring training. He became the first Cub to be extended long-term since Kyle Hendricks in 2019.
The Happ and Hoerner deals follow a run when the team either traded or lost to free agency a group of its best players, including Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras.
Happ and Hoerner lack the star power of those former teammates but both have developed into high-floor, consistent players after being first-round picks. Happ, like Bryant and Schwarber, was an advanced hitter in college. He’s emerged as a strong major league hitters, raising his career OPS to .801.
It’s notable that the Cubs are giving Happ a full no-trade clause in the deal, as they figure to soon have an abundance of outfielders. Jed Hoyer, who succeeded Epstein as president of baseball operations, signed a five-year, $85 million deal with Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki before 2022. The Cubs added veterans Cody Bellinger and Trey Mancini on short contracts in the off-season, seemingly to serve as bridge pieces to a wealth of young outfielders on the top levels of their farm system.
Pete Crow-Armstrong, Kevin Alcantara, Brennan Davis, Owen Caissie and Alexander Canario are all projected to push for major-league jobs within the next two seasons. Nelson Velasquez, a hero in the Cubs’ Monday win over Seattle, and Christopher Morel are pushing to earn a second chance while previously flashing their skills in Chicago or the Arizona Fall League.
Happ is earning $10.5 this season and was eligible for free agency after the season. His contract eliminates three free agent seasons in exchange for financial security.
With Happ signed, the Cubs may look to trade from their inventory of young outfielders to pursue catching or starting pitching. It’s possible they will look to be buyers, not sellers at this summer’s trade deadline.