Cubs fortify new core with Ian Happ extension. Can he lead their next great team?

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Ian Happ just lost his chance to be part of the last great Cubs team. Instead of testing the open market this winter as one of the best position players available, Happ has secured himself a chance to be a big part of the Cubs’ next great team.

Wednesday, Chicago announced a three-year extension for Happ, who will pay him $61 million guaranteed (This is in addition to the $10.85 million he’s doing 2023 in his final year of arbitration.) The lack of high-profile hitters in next winter’s free agent class suggested Happ could be in line for a big payday in open market after this season, either in Chicago or elsewhere. . Instead, Happ, who has consistently communicated his desire to remain a Cub, opted to extend his stay on the North Side through the 2026 season.

He was ninth overall for the Cubs in 2015, Happ did his thing MLB debuts on May 13, 2017, about a month after his new companions received their 2016 World Series rings to commemorate one of the most iconic championships in baseball history. Over the next six years, the core of the World Series team gradually left via trade and free agency. Once an exciting young talent hoping to bolster the all-star roster with consistent championship aspirations, Happ was suddenly a veteran in his own right and now sits as the second-longest-serving Cub behind the ace Kyle Hendricks.

“When we went through all those guys, that’s when it was like, ‘Oh, now I can park in the front row,'” Happ told FOX Sports during spring training. “It’s the little things what are you, wow, that’s changed.”

Happ cited how quickly he found himself in the shoes of veterans he once admired. The seventh-year outfielder, along with 25-year-old second baseman Nico Hoerner, who the Cubs also recently extended, have become the standard to emulate for the club’s exciting prospect pool.

“I was thinking about it [Cubs outfield prospect] Brennan Davis When I got to the big leagues, I was 22 and [Anthony] Rizzo was 27 years old. Now I’m 28 and [Davis] is 23″.

At the 2022 trade deadline last July, it looked like Happ, who had just made his first career All-Star Game, might be next. With so many veterans already traded for prospects and another losing season underway, his name was constantly thrown around in trade discussions alongside catcher Willson Contreras. While Contreras eventually left for St. Louis in free agency, Happ remained in tow for the final year of his contract despite his future in Chicago being clouded. This extension clarifies the intentions of both the Cubs and Happ to continue building together.

While the timing of the extension may seem unusual for a player so close to free agency, it follows Happ’s deep appreciation for playing for such a storied franchise. Baseball can be a business for teams and players alike, but getting to call Wrigley Field is a unique privilege that Happ has never taken lightly.

“I was a baseball fan my whole life,” Happ said. “I watched games on WGN when I got home from school. I couldn’t even understand what Wrigley Field was until you’re actually there and you step on the field.”

More specifically, Happ is especially grateful that he made it to the big leagues before the dugouts at Wrigley underwent major renovations.

“I was very lucky because in ’17 we had the old dugout. I wish people who came up now could see that. We had this little dugout that had a urinal that we called the Ernie Banks Toilet,” Happ recalled fondly . “He was so old… it was like Ernie used that!”

The dugouts were one of the last vestiges of an iconic stadium that has been slowly remodeled from the inside out over the past decade.

“We had the beautiful clubhouse and we had all that stuff, but there was still a feeling like, ‘Wow, this is so historic.’ And you still have the feeling when you go out on the field, that Babe Ruth shot there and [Ryne] Sandberg and Ernie Banks and Ron Santo and those guys played on that field. You still have this connection. But to feel like you’re sitting in the exact same dugout seat as one of those guys … it was such a great connection that I was lucky enough to have in ’17.”

This commitment to the Cubs is much more than sentimentality, of course. It’s about winning. Aside from two quiet losses to the Marlins in an empty Wrigley Field during the strange 2020 playoffs, the Cubs haven’t appeared in the postseason since Happ’s second season in 2018. Reflecting on the success he witnessed in his first few years in the organization, Happ is adamant that he was about the year before the championship year that really set the tone for what turned out to be a legendary group.

“’16 is the year they talk about, but ’15 is really the year,” Happ explained. “That group that came together in ’15, completely and utterly exceeding expectations with everybody new, was what really set the standard for the organization.”

The Cubs’ good offseason

The Cubs' good offseason

Ben Verlander and Alex Curry discuss Chicago’s smart moves from last winter.

After five consecutive last-place finishes, including a 73-win campaign in 2014, the Cubs won 97 games and reached the NLCS in 2015. Now, after a 74-win season in 2022, it would be hard to expect 24. -win jump and NLCS runs this fall. But with All-Star shortstop Dansby Swanson leading the veteran additions of this past offseason, perhaps the core version of the Jon Lester signing, combined with the wealth of young talent knocking on the door, the 2023 Cubs could be ready to shock the league in a similar way. .

Instead of potentially leaving in free agency just as the organization is turning a corner, Happ will have a crucial impact on whether the Cubs’ next great team comes to fruition. You can also continue to park in the first row.

Jordan Shusterman is half @CespedesBBQ and a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He has covered baseball throughout his adult life, mostly for MLB.com, DAZN and The Ringer. He’s a Mariners fan who lives in the Eastern time zone, which means he loves a good 10pm first pitch. You can follow him on Twitter @j_shusterman_.

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