Happ wins arbitration case (source)

February 19th, 2021

CHICAGO -- claimed the everyday job in center field and helped stabilize the leadoff spot for the Cubs last season. Manager David Ross plans on allowing Happ to reprise both roles again in the upcoming campaign.

First, there was a bit of contractual business to attend to for Happ and the Cubs. On Friday, a source told MLB.com's Mark Feinsand that Happ won his arbitration hearing with Chicago, meaning the outfielder will earn a $4.1 million salary during the 2021 season.

The Cubs' counter offer for Happ, who serves as the club’s representative for the MLB Players' Association, was $3.25 million in his first year under the arbitration process. The switch-hitting outfielder earned $603,500 last year.

The Cubs did not confirm the arbitration decision.

In a frustrating season overall for the Cubs' offense, Happ stepped up as a source of steady production. When the abbreviated 2020 campaign began, he was paired with Albert Almora Jr. (now with the Mets) in center, but soon took over as the regular choice for Ross.

Across 57 games, Happ slashed .258/.361/.505 with 12 home runs, 11 doubles, 28 RBIs and a team-leading 1.9 WAR (per Fangraphs). Happ had a 1.000-plus OPS as late as Sept. 10, but a late-season slump (.455 OPS in the final 13 games) dragged down his overall slash line.

During the Cubs' two-game sweep at the hands of the Marlins in the National League Wild Card Series, Happ produced Chicago's lone run, launching a home run in Game 1, and finishing 4-for-8 in the pair of losses.

It is also worth noting that Happ's performance in 2020 was a continuation of a solid showing from the '19 season. Two years ago, Happ was sent back to Triple-A Iowa at the start of the campaign to focus on his offensive approach. When he returned to the Majors, he logged an .898 OPS in 58 games (boosted by a 1.021 OPS in September).

After striking out at a 36.1 percent clip in 462 plate appearances in 2018, Happ rebounded with a 26.4 percent strikeout rate across the '19-20 seasons (387 PAs). He also turned in a 130 wRC+ over the past two years, indicating he was 30 percent above MLB average as an offensive performer.

As things currently stand, Happ projects as the starter in center field for the Cubs, who have Jason Heyward in right and newcomer Joc Pederson in left. Center fielder Jake Marisnick is expected to serve as a fourth outfield option, but his one-year agreement with the Cubs is not yet official. Outfielder Phillip Ervin will also compete for a bench job this spring.

Prior to Happ's case, the Cubs' only arbitration hearing during the Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer front office era (going back to 2012) came in 2018. That year, Chicago came out on top in a hearing with pitcher Justin Grimm, who was then released in March of that Spring Training.

There have been just two other arbitration hearings for the Cubs beyond Happ and Grimm over nearly three decades. Chicago won its case against infielder Ryan Theriot in 2010 and also won a case with first baseman Mark Grace in 1993.