Happ's goal? Lead young Cubs to promised land

Outfielder's three-hit game strengthens case for All-Star bid

July 2nd, 2022

CHICAGO -- Leaning against the railing of the Cubs' dugout this week at Wrigley Field, Ian Happ took a break after batting practice while wearing a shirt with the word "complete" across his chest.

It seemed appropriate, given how each facet of Happ's game has synced up in what is developing into a career year for the Cubs outfielder. He notched three more hits on Friday afternoon, when the North Siders pulled off a 6-5 comeback win over the Red Sox.

The future picture is what is currently incomplete for the Cubs. Boston -- another big-market, big-payroll club -- is in the midst of a campaign with October aspirations. Chicago sits 15 games under .500 as the organization plots a course to the next era of true contention.

Happ hopes to remain a part of the blueprint. How badly, exactly?

"Really bad," Happ said. "It's important to know what it looks like winning here. Those little things about what the expectations of the organization, the expectation of what it means to be a Cub. All those little things that guys that have been here really take pride in.

"What it means to wear those pinstripes, the blue pinstripes, on Friday at 1:20, like how special it is here. Those things, they really mean a lot to be able to carry that forward to the next group. For me, it feels like a big deal."

Expect rumors to hover over Happ over the next month as the Aug. 2 Trade Deadline approaches, considering the Cubs' place in the standings and the club's uncertain road in the years ahead. That said, his personal standing appears firmer than someone like catcher Willson Contreras, who can be a free agent this coming winter. Happ is under contract through next season.

Contreras, Kyle Hendricks, Jason Heyward and manager David Ross provide links between the current roster and the one that won the 2016 World Series. Happ arrived to the Majors in '17, but he came up through the farm system with winning as the priority and enjoyed playoff runs with the last core.

Happ believes that experience is crucial for the younger group of up-and-coming Cubs players.

"It's such an exciting opportunity to be a part of building something special here," Happ said. "When I was in the Minor Leagues, everything was about coming up to help this team win a championship. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to be there for that one.

"But that's what every single piece of our day was about, helping the Chicago Cubs win the championship. And that was ingrained in you from the moment you signed and became part of the organization."

With players like Happ, Contreras and Hendricks, among other veterans, as guides, the Cubs have watched some young players start to come into their own.

Nico Hoerner is establishing himself as an everyday shortstop. Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson are looking more and more like reliable rotation pieces. Scott Effross has been a building block for the bullpen. Standout rookie Christopher Morel -- who had a game-tying two-run homer in the sixth on Friday -- has burst onto the scene.

"Winning," Hoerner said, "I don't think is something that one day you just turn the switch on and say, 'Now it's time to win.' Winning takes practice and it takes a lot of people and it takes daily work. I'm still learning what that means from guys that have done it before and from my own experiences."

Happ has undoubtedly played a role in shaping that mindset for Hoerner over the past few seasons.

With his three hits Friday, Happ is now slashing .286/.386/.467 with eight homers, 19 doubles, 37 RBIs and 40 walks. His performance was boosted by an impressive June (.948 OPS in 27 games), and Happ's 2.1 WAR (per FanGraphs) going into Friday ranked fourth among National League outfielders.

Happ did not make the cut for Phase 2 of All-Star voting, which will have Mookie Betts, Joc Pederson, Starling Marte and Adam Duvall on the ballot this week for the NL outfield. Ronald Acuña Jr. has a spot reserved after garnering the most votes in the NL in Phase 1.

Contreras did reach Phase 2 of voting at catcher, along with Travis d'Arnaud. Happ's path to the All-Star Game would have to come either via the players' ballot or selection by the Commissioner's Office.

"Ian Happ deserves to be there, for sure," Contreras said. "His name probably is not that big, but his stats are bigger."

Happ is hoping that call comes.

"You grow up watching those games and punching the ballots and being so excited for it," Happ said. "So, to be a part of that would be really, really cool. And it would be awesome to go with Willson and be able to share that moment with him."

Looking beyond the All-Star Game, and even beyond this season, Happ also hopes both he and Contreras can continue to be leaders for the next contending Cubs team.

"Willson and I both really want to be here," Happ said, "and be a part of this organization moving forward. But, some of those things are just out of your control.”