On the heels of the recent extension agreement between the Cubs and second baseman Nico Hoerner, Patrick Mooney of The Athletic checked in on the status of negotiations with the other Cubs hitter who found himself in the extension rumor mill this offseason: outfielder Ian Happ.
No extension got done ahead of Opening Day between Happ and the Cubs, through president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer noted that the sides has “really productive and really cordial” negotiations in the run up to the start of the season. While Hoyer refused to say negotiations had come to an end, he admitted to the difficulties of negotiations during the season, saying, “I know how hard it is to perform, in general, and having negotiations going on can be really difficult for some guys, so I respect the fact that guys won’t do it.”
Happ, who Mooney notes is not only the team’s representative to the MLBPA but also advised Hoerner during his extension negotiations with the Cubs, is set to become a free agent at the end of the 2023 season. He sports a career wRC+ of 115, and though his 120 mark from last season isn’t far off from that figure, he considerably changes his approach at the plate last season. Though he sacrificed some power, posting a career-low .169 ISO, he cut his strikeout rate down to just 23.2% from his career 30.8% mark headed into the 2022 season. Should Happ be able to replicate his 2022 performance this season, he figures to join the likes of Matt Chapman and Teoscar Hernandez as among the best bats on the free agent market this offseason not named Shohei Ohtani.
More from the north side of Chicago…
- Cubs relief prospect Ben Leeper, 25, underwent surgery on his arm yesterday, as the player noted himself on his Instagram account. Maddie Lee of the Chicago Sun Times notes that the procedure was Tommy John surgery, which will cause Leeper to miss not only the entire 2023 season but likely a significant portions of the 2024 season as well. Leeper, who signed with the Cubs as an undrafted free agent following the 2020 draft, posted a 3.11 ERA for the Cubs in 81 innings of work over the last two seasons split between the Double-A and Triple-A levels. Leeper figured to make his MLB debut sometime this year, but this news will scuttle those plans until 2024 at the earliest. The Cubs still have several depth options in the minors for the big league bullpen this season, including Jeremiah Estrada, Brendon Little, and Rowan Wick.
- According to MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian, outfielder Seiya Suzuki figures to get a pair of at-bats in a rehab game in Arizona today, though he will not play the field. Suzuki started the season on the injured list with an oblique strain and figures to join the big league club sometime this month. Suzuki is entering the second year of his five-year, $85MM contract with the club. In his MLB debut season last year, Suzuki slashed .262/.336/.443 in 446 plate appearances, good for a 116 wRC+. The right-handed slugger is regarded as one of the most important hitters in the lineup for a Cubs team looking to make a surprise run at contention after signing Dansby Swanson, Cody Bellinger, and Jameson Taillon this offseason, and a healthy season from him will be key to the club’s fortunes this season.
- Cubs reliever Brandon Hughes will begin throwing tomorrow, according to Bastian. A converted outfield prospect, Hughes impressed in 57 2/3 innings of work out of the Chicago bullpen last season, posting a 3.12 ERA, good for a 132 ERA+. While that top line run prevention number is impressive, and Hughes posted a solid 28.5% strikeout rate against an 8.8% walk rate, he also managed to leave a whopping 87.7% of runners on base last season, in large part thanks to his deflated .233 BABIP in spite of a groundball rate of just 33.8%. Given his problems with balls in the air, it’s no surprise that his FIP was a whopping 4.64 last year. Still, the Cubs figures to be a lock for the Cubs’ bullpen once he’s healthy, particularly given the club currently has no left-handers in its bullpen.