Ian Happ, Chicago Cubs
There’s no reason to believe the Cubs are willing to deal Ian Happ, and there’s even less reason to believe the Diamondbacks have the pieces to get him. Still, in terms of building a balanced, flexible lineup, Happ delivers power from both sides of the plate, and he can play anywhere on the diamond except for short, catcher, and pitcher.
Still, a host of questions persist: on the Cubs side, if they decided to move him, would they want ML pieces or prospects? On the Diamondbacks side, should they want Happ? Do they even have the pieces to get him?
The Cubs certainly have a need to bolster their farm, but there’s no reason to think they’d be willing to sacrifice an ML piece to do so. They’d need to get something back that helps them return to the playoffs in ’19.
The Diamondbacks have a few near-ML pitching prospects they could deal without depleting the reserves too much. Taylor Clarke, Yoan Lopez and Taylor Widener won’t knock your socks off, but they all have upside and figure to start the season in Triple A. The Cubs have an older rotation that could lose Jon Lester, Cole Hamels or Kyle Hendricks to free agency in the next two seasons, and they’ve struggled to develop pitching.
Almora would also be a reasonable target as a player who profiles similarly to Pillar, but he’s a high-character early draft pick whom the Cubs have notoriously valued highly. Happ, for whatever reason, has been floated more frequently as a trade candidate despite largely fitting the same profile.
Defensively, he grades out as slightly below average, but his ability to play all over the field somewhat mitigates the low marks, and given that he’s only 24-years-old, there’s some room to grow as far as route reading. He is a suitable spiritual replacement for Pollock as well, as his all-out style is redolent of Pollock’s own crash-test-dummy personality in center.
Offensively, Happ is an all-or-nothing slugger, still generating between 6-14% more offense than your average hitter through his first two seasons in Chicago. Overall, there’s more fluctuation in his numbers across the board than is ideal, so the jury is still out on exactly what type of major league hitter he will be.
His isolated power fell off a bit last season as his K rate soared to over 36%. At the same time, he walked at a very solid 15.2% BB%, so maybe the young Cubs outfielder is still refining his approach.
Also of note, he led off on Opening Day for the Cubs last season, taking over the spot held effectively by Dexter Fowler during their 2016 World Series run. Fowler was a walk-fiend in his time with the Cubs, seeing a lot of pitches and helping an otherwise free-swinging roster get an early look at a starter’s arsenal while building those pitch counts and making it easier to get into the opposing pen.
Happ’s rising BB% hints at an intentionality on either Happ’s, the Cubs part, or both to develop him as Fowler’s natural successor. He wasn’t quite ready last year, but that doesn’t mean they’ve given up.
He has yet to reach arbitration, which makes him a good fit in terms of timeline for the Diamondbacks. Even if he never does improve defensively, he could succeed Peralta or Souza Jr. in the corner.
Frankly, Happ would be a great fit in Arizona, but I just don’t think he’s available. He’s a year or two behind the rest of the Cubs’ core, which means he’s cheap for that much longer. That’s valuable for this current iteration of the Cubs, so unless Arizona offsets those concerns with 2-3 legitimately promising ML prospects capable of contributing soon, I just don’t see Chicago budging.