The trade deadline is coming up and the Cubs might be looking to add some offense. In particular, there are two positions that have been weak spots in the Cubs lineup this year: second base and center field. There are a few trade rumors out there connecting the Cubs to a bat that would bolster their offense.
But before the Cubs give up some top prospects for a bat, they need to give Ian Happ another shot.
The switch-hitting Happ played 257 games for the Cubs in the majors over the 2017 and 2018 seasons. He showed some real power, especially from the left side. He sports a career line of .242/.341/.459 which might not be great, but it’s pretty solid.
As you probably know, there were some problems with Happ last season. For one, he was pretty terrible after the All-Star Break. His strikeout totals soared, and even while his walks went up in 2018, Happ’s strikeout percentage went up all the way to 36%. Defensively, he wasn’t terrible in center or at second base, but his glove certainly wasn’t helping the team at either position. (He was solid in left field, however.)
Despite all that and a poor Spring Training, it came as a bit of a shock when Happ was sent down to Triple-A Iowa to start the season. Still, the move did make some sense. Happ needed to work on his swing and his defense and that was going to be hard to do in the majors if the Cubs wouldn’t give him regular playing time. On top of that, he had minor league options, which meant that the Cubs didn’t have to release a different player who couldn’t be sent to Iowa.
Most of us seemed to think that Happ would spend a few weeks in Iowa and return sometime in mid-May. It’s now mid-July and Happ is still in Iowa.
There are some reasons why the front office hasn’t called on Happ before now. For one, it was clear that the problems with Happ’s approach at the plate weren’t going to be fixed overnight. Far from dominating Triple-A pitching, Happ struggled to start the season and it got worse as the weather warmed up.
But here’s the good news. After a horrible 22-game stretch from late-May to mid-June where Happ hit a miserable .165 with three home runs, Happ has actually been terrific of late. Yes, it’s a small sample, but over the past 17 games, Happ has hit .319/.417/.583 with four home runs. Over the course of the season, Happ’s strikeout percentage in Iowa has been 27.5%, which isn’t great but it’s an improvement.
As far as his defense in center field goes, here’s the opinion of someone who watches him everyday.
Ian Happ with another hit and another outfield assist tonight through four innings.— Alex Cohen (@voiceofcohen) July 16, 2019
His defense in CF, from the untrained eye (me), has been absolutely spectacular this season. Take that for what you will.
Now to be clear, it’s Cohen’s job to get people excited about the players in Iowa. And he’s not a scout, nor is he analyzing Statcast data. But even if he’s using a little hyperbole, it still sounds like Happ has taken some big steps forward with his defense in center field this summer.
The Cubs have two problems in their lineup at the moment and their names are Daniel Descalso and Albert Almora Jr. Descalso has been so terrible that he has four hits, all singles, since June 1. (That’s in 29 at-bats.) His WAR is so bad that Baseball-Reference ranks him a -1.0 player. That means that if some random guy taken out of Triple-A had been playing instead of Descalso, the Cubs would theoretically have one more win. (Fangraphs is a little more generous at -0.6.) Descalso can’t hit, he can’t field and he’s not playing much at all. He’s a waste of a roster spot. No one would bat an eye if the Cubs released Descalso to get Happ back into the lineup. Even at his worst last season, Happ was better than Descalso has been lately.
Almora is a trickier issue because he is a good defensive center fielder by both the eye test and the analytic measurements. (Although the Statcast guys will tell you that Almora, while good, is not as good as he looks and that he has an incredible talent for making moderately difficult plays look spectacular.) But Almora just hasn’t been good at the plate this season. Yes, you can make the argument that he’s hitting into bad luck and that a .267 batting average on balls in play is way below Almora’s career norms. But Almora wasn’t hitting into bad luck in 2018 and his bat was just “meh.” At the moment, the Cubs are playing Jason Heyward a lot more in center field than he should be. If the Cubs had a center fielder who didn’t have to be benched against tough right-handers or pinch hit for late in games, it would improve their outfield defense simply by letting Heyward play his natural position of right field.
The added bonus of calling up Happ is that he can play second base as well, although he’s played very little of that in Iowa this season with only 13 starts. But with Descalso presumably gone, Happ could certainly fill in at second base if the Addison Russell/Robel Garcia partnership doesn’t work out there.
It’s very possible that if Happ were to be recalled, he could struggle just like he did in the second half last season. I don’t think he will, but it’s possible. But it’s best to find that out now. Because if the Cubs should at least try to fill a hole in their lineup with the talent they’ve got rather than dipping into the depleted minor league system again to pick up another veteran. If Happ were starting at Wrigley tomorrow, that would give the Cubs eleven games before the trade deadline to see what Happ can do. If he fails, then the Cubs can make a move for another bat knowing that it was necessary.
There’s no reason to wait any longer. Get Ian Happ on the next plane to Chicago.
Call up Ian Happ now?
This poll is closed
Yes. He can’t be worse than the guys he’s replacing
Not now. He’s still not ready.