If the New York Yankees' starting left fielder isn't expected to be on the Opening Day roster, then all the impatient fans can start looking ahead to the end of July when trades will start going down shortly before the deadline.
Cubs slugger Ian Happ has been a favorite among Yankees fans dating back to last year, but either the Yankees couldn't make it happen or Chicago wasn't interested in trading him. As of right now, Happ is heading into a contract year with the Cubs, which would make him a premier trade candidate this summer.
On paper, it seems obvious. The Cubs aren't built to contend for the foreseeable future. Happ is entering his age-28 season. The team's top three prospects are outfielders.
But the Cubs didn't capitalize on his value when it was at its peak, and Happ has his eye on Chicago long-term (or so he says). The Cubs reportedly began extension talks with Happ and Nico Hoerner earlier in the offseason, but nothing's come to fruition.
The fact that it remains a possibility endangers the Yankees' pool of upper echelon trade candidates come midseason. Then again, Happ might want to operate more business-like and wait until free agency, which could end up helping New York.
Yankees' trade target Ian Happ sends mixed messages about Cubs
Here's what Happ told insider Mark Feinsand of MLB.com this week during Spring Training:
"Chicago's the place that is home for me and the only thing that I've ever known. As a player who's only known this, you feel pretty at home in the organization and with the group. It would be weird to wear another jersey; I would love to stay here and I would love to be a part of the next great Cubs team, but we'll see."- Ian Happ, MLB.com
OK, so he wants to remain a Cub. That's bad for the Yankees. But he acknowledges that it's up to the team, which helps the Yankees because the Cubs have been pretty bad at maintaining positive relationships with their core players (Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, etc.). Additionally, the Cubs just splurged this offseason ($177 million for Dansby Swanson, $68 million for Jameson Taillon) and don't have a lot of money coming off the books after 2023. Happ might be too pricey for them.
The perfect scenario for the Yankees is if the Cubs don't extend Happ, they're not contending by the deadline, and they sour another relationship by dangling him in more trade talks at the deadline in hopes of getting something in return before they inevitably lose him in free agency.
If the Cubs' behavior over the last five years has taught us anything, it's that the odds are in New York's favor despite Happ's desire to remain in Chicago.