ST. LOUIS — The Cubs have a schedule for the DraftKings sportsbook at Wrigley Field, the 22,350-square-foot addition at the corner of Addison Street and Sheffield Avenue, which is slated to open in 2023. The team and its corporate partners organized Friday’s photo op to spotlight another construction project in Wrigleyville. Business is good for the Cubs even if baseball is bad.
The full blueprint for The Next Great Cubs Team has not yet been released. Jed Hoyer, president of baseball operations, believes manager David Ross and his coaches are laying the groundwork. Blue chip prospects are developing in the smaller leagues following the Yu Darvish deal and a huge sell-off at last year’s close. The two sizable contracts guaranteed to Marcus Stroman and Seiya Suzuki – a combined $156m for two players on the injured list – represent a significant investment for the future.
The Cubs are still on track for 100 losses, drawing unfavorable comparisons to the 2012 team that survived the start of the last rebuild. It’s already known that All-Star catcher Willson Contreras and closer David Robertson will almost certainly be traded through the Aug. 2 deadline alongside other supplemental players with expiring contracts. The more insightful answer as to the organization’s timeframe will be where outfielder Ian Happ plays on August 3rd.
“At some point you get numb,” said Happ ahead of Friday’s 3-0 win over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. “You become deaf and you just have to do your job every day. I’ve said this before, we’ve all been through a stretch where there have been rumours. Playing in this market – whether it’s the off-season or the mid-season where things like this were swirling around – you’ve been through it at some point.
This decision will not completely change the course of the organization. But this isn’t a franchise based in Cleveland, Kansas City, or Tampa. Happ is a homegrown player who plays at the All-Star level, a disciplined switch hitter and an improved left field defender whose performance so far this season is worth a 2.5 WAR according to the Baseball Reference. Reconstructing one of the worst pitching staffs in the game and building a credible lineup sans Happ and Contreras — in an offseason — seem like reaches for Hoyer’s front office.
Ian Happ hits .365 against LHP this season! pic.twitter.com/npkB2Xrw02
— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) June 23, 2022
Happ, the team’s union representative through Major League Baseball’s lockout, is poised to become a free agent after the 2023 season. Regarding his prospects for a contract extension, Happ downplayed the importance of his decision to switch agency from Excel Sports Management to WME Sports. Happ eventually followed after WME Sports removed agents Jim Murray and Michael Stival from Excel in 2021.
“It was more about continuity from someone representing me in an arbitration,” said Happ, who beat the Cubs in that 2021 hearing. “I’ve always made it very clear that I like playing here. This is a great place to play. I would love to be a part of competitive groups here in the years to come.
“Chicago is an incredible place. You see this year, while we are going through some struggles, there are still 30,000-40,000 people who are happy to win 1-0 after losing 10 games in a row. It is a very, very special place.”
The internal systems highlighting Suzuki who was born on August 18, 1994 would presumably project well for Happ who was born on August 12, 1994. Nearing his 28th birthday, Happ is making adjustments and figuring things out, hitting eight homers with a .288, 36 RBIs, a .385 baseline percentage and an .860 OPS. That’s the upper tier of hitters the Cubs expected him to have when they picked him the #9 pick in the 2015 University of Cincinnati draft.
During these pre-draft considerations, the Cubs focused on the polished college hitter and thought Happ was more marketable on a faster path and in a potential pitching-aid trade. The Yankees chose Gleyber Torres as their headliner in the Aroldis Chapman trade that cemented the Cubs for their 2016 World Series run. The following year, the Cubs traded Jorge Soler to the Royals, replacing Chapman with All-Star closer Wade Davis. Happ made his major league debut two months before the Cubs gave up Eloy Jiménez and Dylan Cease in the José Quintana deal with the White Sox.
“I’m sure that was a time when that could have happened to me,” said Happ. “Everyone has gone through it at certain points. It’s something you just go deaf to and understand it’s part of the job.”
As always, it depends on who else is out there and what the Cubs might get in return. Happ also recalled hearing the trade talk during the 2019 season that began with his surprise downgrade to Triple-A Iowa. The Cubs didn’t recall Happ until July 26 of this year, five days before Nick Castellanos and the Tigers signed a deal. This cannot be quantified, but a prolific player who has progressed through the farm system, studied players with World Series experience, learned from their own struggles and figured out what works for them at the major league level and how to do it, is valuable to withstand the pressure in a large market.
The Cardinals Way places a strong emphasis on historical ties to the past, the intangibles that Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols bring to the clubhouse every day. Happ mentioned Anthony Rizzo, former strength and conditioning coach Tim Buss, and former Cubs coach/current Orioles manager Brandon Hyde.
“When I first got here, there were people talking about what it means to be a cub,” Happ said. “They talked about the city and how great it is and the fans and how different it is from other places. These things are important. For a historic franchise with a special place, it’s important to pass on some of those lessons.”
(Photo: Jeff Curry / USA Today)