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State of the Cubs

State of the Cubs: Long-term stability in left field

8 months agoTony Andracki

The 2023 season is over and after narrowly missing out on the playoffs, the Cubs are staring down a pivotal winter. Before the stove starts heating up, we analyze the Cubs depth chart at each position and how Jed Hoyer’s front office might address the team’s needs.

Next up: Left field

DEPTH CHART

1. Ian Happ
2. Christopher Morel
3. Alexander Canario
4. Mike Tauchman

ANALYSIS

Ian Happ showed up to Spring Training 2023 entering his final year under contract with the Cubs. But he secured an extension in April that will keep him in Chicago through the 2026 campaign.

That officially locks up the Cubs’ left field position for at least the next three years.

After a bit of an up-and-down first few seasons of his career, Happ found consistency and put it all together in 2022, notching his first trip to the All-Star Game and a Gold Glove in addition to 3.6 WAR (FanGraphs).

He posted a 3.5 WAR in 2023 but took a bit of a step back in defensive production according to some metrics. Happ ranked 30th among MLB left fielders with -7 Outs Above Average but still finished as a finalist for the NL Gold Glove Award at the position.

Offensively, the 29-year-old switch-hitter put together another strong campaign while holding down the No. 3 spot in the Cubs order on a regular basis. Happ hit .248 but drew 99 walks and sported a .791 OPS and 118 wRC+ to go along with 21 homers, 35 doubles, 84 RBI, 86 runs and even chipped in a career-high 14 stolen bases.

In addition to his play on the field, Happ has been integral behind the scenes to forge a new winning culture and serve as a stabilizing force amid the franchise’s transition over the last few seasons.

“A really good person, really good teammate,” Jed Hoyer said in April after the Cubs announced Happ’s extension. “I’ve seen such a change in him in the last year, year-and-a-half in terms of stepping into a leadership role.

“He became one of the more veteran guys here and really embraced that. His preparation to play is outstanding both from a physical preparation everyday routine but also, he does everything you can think of to try to win a game.”

WHAT’S NEXT?

Happ will continue to lock down left field, as he made 152 starts at the position in 2023.

Young outfielders Christopher Morel and Alexander Canario provide in-house depth behind Happ and if veteran Mike Tauchman returns to the Cubs in 2024, he will also serve as another option.

Morel, 24, has played nearly every position on the diamond in his brief MLB career but has yet to find a defensive home. Canario, 23, has mostly seen time in right field and center coming up through the minor leagues but can play all three outfield spots and provides some power from the right side of the plate.

Barring an injury, Happ will be in left field on a regular basis. The only question will come in terms of his production.

Happ’s overall offensive numbers look similar over the last 2 years but he accomplished it in different ways. In 2022, he hit for a higher average but with less power and fewer walks. In 2023, Happ’s average dipped 23 points but he hit more homers and drew 41 more walks, often serving to set the table in front of dynamic cleanup hitter Cody Bellinger.

BOTTOM LINE

Now that he doesn’t have to worry about an uncertain future, Happ can continue to settle in as a leader on the Cubs and help push the organization forward in 2024 and beyond.

State of the Cubs series

Catcher
First Base
Second Base
Third Base
Shortstop
Left Field
Center Field
Right Field
Designated Hitter
Starting Rotation
Bullpen

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