“Is it tough or easy?” is how Joe Maddon responded to a question about Ian Happ making the looming roster decision “tough” on the Cubs.
Maddon rarely shows a different side during his postgame media sessions, but the smirking manager did seem to be in a good mood after Thursday’s 9-5 win swept the Cincinnati Reds out of Wrigley Field. That night, Jason Heyward planned to test his sprained right finger at Class-A South Bend as a final step before getting activated from the disabled list.
This is assuming the Cubs haven’t already decided to keep Happ, who’s gone 6-for-17 with two homers, two doubles, five walks, five runs and four RBI through his first five games in The Show.
“Of course, we have to have that discussion,” Maddon said. “He’s doing really well and my message to him when he came up was: Why don’t you just stay a while? Just stay as long as you need to or want to.
“We’ll have that conversation when Jason’s well. Hopefully, that turns out good today, and then there’s no reason that Jason has to be back tomorrow. We’ll just wait and see.
“Of course, Ian obviously…does not want to go anywhere.”
Happ’s long-term development isn’t a consideration for Maddon if the Cubs want to weigh more experience at Triple-A Iowa against the chance to contribute to the defending World Series champs in multiple ways.
“No, not at all,” Maddon said. “Just like Javy’s development wasn’t a concern. It just has a way of working itself out.”
While not as spectacular as Javier Baez, Happ is a versatile player who gives an open-minded manager different lineup options and in-game flexibility. Maddon focuses on the 25 guys who will maximize his chances to win that day – and not a prospect putting the finishing touches on his game in Des Moines.
“I’m just staying in the present moment,” Happ said. “My job is to come out here and go play hard and just try to get on base.”
Maddon signaled he liked the idea of keeping an eight-man bullpen, which could force Tommy La Stella back down to Triple-A. Maddon isn’t at all worried about finding at-bats for Happ, a switch-hitter who’s started at all three outfield spots and can play second base and maybe develop into a backup at the corner infield spots.
Maddon sees depth as an essential component to a team that played into early November last year, viewing sports science as a next frontier for the industry.
“There’s still the ability to balance it,” Maddon said. “That’s what we’ve been talking about the whole way – to not get anybody tired early. Look how good ‘Zo’ (Ben Zobrist) looked (Wednesday night). He had a couple days off – his back was a little bit tight – but he looked really refreshed.
“That’s a perfect example of when you give guys a couple consecutive days off and what it can look like. Not everybody can do that. If you don’t have the requisite talent on the bench to permit that to occur, you don’t want to do it. You’re always fighting against it.”