Ian Happ’s versatility affords Cubs more flexibility this offseason
Entering 2020, manager David Ross declared the everyday center field job was wide open and Ian Happ ultimately grabbed the gig from Opening Day on.
The same ended up playing out with the Cubs’ leadoff spot, as Happ secured a position in the lineup that has lacked stability since Dexter Fowler left before the 2017 season.
At the moment, the projection is for Happ to be the center fielder and leadoff hitter for the Cubs on Opening Day 2021. But it also wouldn’t be a shock to see Happ move to left field on a more regular basis. Or hitting second. Or batting third. Or fourth. Or…you get the idea.
With Kyle Schwarber non-tendered earlier this month, Happ’s flexibility has become even more of an asset for the Cubs. It allows Jed Hoyer’s front office flexibility to go down several different avenues in augmenting this roster.
“We’re totally comfortable with Ian playing center,” Hoyer said. “But obviously if an acquisition brought us a pure, natural center fielder, Ian would be well above average defensively in left and we could certainly do that.
“We’re open to it. He improved a lot defensively through hard work, so we’re totally comfortable going that direction.”
In 2020, Happ occasionally moved to left field late in games as he replaced Schwarber when Ross wanted better defense and either Albert Almora Jr. or Billy Hamilton came in to play center field. Per FanGraphs’ Defensive Runs Saved metric, Happ has -1 DRS in 425 innings in center and a +2 mark in 104.2 innings in left over the last two seasons.
Offensively, Happ led the Cubs in most categories in 2020 amidst a breakout campaign. He slashed .258/.361/.505 (.866 OPS) with 24 extra-base hits and 28 RBI in 57 games.
He made 37 starts in the leadoff spot and posted a .333 OBP and .819 OPS. On the current Cubs roster, Happ is the best choice to lead off but just like outfield positioning, he could move down the lineup based on other offseason moves.
“He did a great job in that spot last year,” Hoyer said. “Finally someone was able to do well in that spot. We’re comfortable with that. If we don’t end up finding a pure leadoff hitter, that’s probably what will happen. But if we do, I think Ian’s bat plays all over the lineup.”
There’s still a lot of offseason left, but the Cubs currently have only two full-time outfielders on their 40-man roster in Happ and Jason Heyward. Kris Bryant has played more than 1,000 career innings in the outfield, David Bote has some experience out there and the organization has also experimented with Nico Hoerner in center field over the last couple years.
The Cubs have signed outfielders Michael Hermosillo and Ian Miller to minor-league deals, as well.
Ahead of Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft, the Cubs considered selecting an outfielder and adding to their depth, but didn’t feel like the right fit was available.