At this point of July, the Yankees’ needs at the trade deadline have been pretty clear for quite a while now. While the Yankees arguably have the best offense in the league — their 121 OPS+ and 5.34 runs/game are both tops in the league — the bottom of the order has nonetheless been soft, with the team getting fairly little production out of Joey Gallo, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and Josh Donaldson. They’ve already added Royals outfielder Andrew Benintendi earlier this week, but he’s not really a regular option in center field, where the Yankees have been playing Aaron Judge all season.
Chicago Cubs outfielder Ian Happ represents an interesting possibility for the Yankees. Originally taken ninth overall in the 2015 amateur draft, he made his Major League debut two years later, on May 13, 2017. The 28th-ranked prospect in baseball, he joined the defending World Series champions as a super-utility player, spending time at second base and in all three outfield positions in addition to a cameo at the hot corner. Aside from a demotion to Triple-A for the first half of the 2019 season, Happ has been a mainstay in the Cubs lineup ever since ...
... until now, that is. More than 13 games out of first place in the division and just three games out of last, the Cubs are looking to sell the last remnants of the team that everybody projected to be a dynasty following the 2016 season. A first-time All-Star who will be entering his final year of arbitration this winter, Happ is almost a lock to be traded before Tuesday’s deadline — and he knows it. In his rumor roundup on Tuesday, ESPN’s Jeff Passan wrote that it has “become clear in the past week as trade talks picked up: Almost everyone wants Happ.”
It’s easy to understand why. The switch-hitting outfielder has been lighting it up from both sides of the plate, slashing .258/.351/.423 from the left side and an otherworldly .346/.407/.513 from the right. His 127 wRC+ ranks 15th among outfielders, and his 2.3 fWAR is tied for 14th. Additionally, his 3 Defensive Runs Saved in left field are tied for 11th among those with 100 or more innings in left. It’s hard to find a team that wouldn’t benefit from adding Happ.
Not only are the Yankees included among this group of teams, but you could make the case that Happ is the team’s ideal position player target at the deadline (excluding a certain Juan Soto, of course). While he doesn’t quite barrel the ball as often as you would like — his 4.9 barrel percentage, a career low, is in the 44th percentile — he gets on base a ton thanks to a robust 10.7 BB% (76th percentile). Happ’s .282 batting average would be fourth on the team, behind Matt Carpenter, Andrew Benintendi, and Aaron Judge, and his .366 OBP would be sixth, behind Carpenter, Judge, Benintendi, DJ LeMahieu, and Aaron Hicks.
Furthermore, although Happ has almost exclusively played left field this year (he’s spent 12 innings across three games in center this year, he has spent extensive time in all three outfield positions, with 1668.0 career innings in left, 1626.0 in center, and 332.2 in right. He might not be a defensive wizard out there — over the course of his career, he has 8 Defensive Runs Saved and -1 Outs Above Average in left, -5 DRS and -5 OAA in center, and -4 DRS and -4 OAA in right — his flexibility would allow the team to mix and match their outfield alignment to keep everybody fresh.
For example, the team could use a combination of Benintendi, Happ, and Hicks in left and Happ and Hicks in center in order to keep Judge in right field, keeping their best player at a less physically demanding position to ensure his health down the stretch and keep the best bat in the American League in the lineup. The fact that Happ has experience in the infield certainly doesn’t hurt either, considering how this game can sometimes force players into a pinch. At the very least, it should keep him on the Yankees’ minds.
That said, although Happ could co-exist with the former Royals outfielder on the Yankees roster, there’s a good chance that Brian Cashman won’t want to double-dip on the position. Even if he wants to use some of the organization’s prospect power to continue to bolster the lineup, barring a Soto blockbuster, it’s more likely that he would look to add another starting pitcher or reliever, or even a shortstop to replace Kiner-Falefa. As good of a player as he would look in pinstripes, Ian is probably not Happ-ening.