If the season started tomorrow, Cubs manager David Ross would bat Ian Happ leadoff.
But if the season started tomorrow, the Cubs would also have just two outfielders on their roster. Ross isn’t setting lineups in stone just yet.
“I think Ian's earned that right for now,” Ross said in his virtual Winter Meetings press conference Wednesday, “unless there's an acquisition that we make that would change anything, where you get a true, proven leadoff hitter. But I like Happer in a lot of spots.”
Because of Happ, no matter who the Cubs add this offseason, they will likely have a comfortable option at the top of the order to begin Spring Training. The Cubs’ leadoff carousel has at least slowed, if not stopped spinning.
“He did a great job in that spot last year,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said last week. “Finally, someone was able to do well in that spot.”
After beginning the season batting in the bottom third of the order, Happ hit leadoff in 37 of the Cubs’ 60 regular season games in 2020. Former leadoff hitter Kris Bryant said he had no problem moving down in the order, joking that first baseman Anthony Rizzo called the leadoff spot “cursed.”
“I know that for us it’s been a little bit of a struggle for that position,” Happ said during the playoffs, “So just being the one that takes the burden on an says, ‘Look, I’m going to take the five (at-bats) every day, and let’s find a way to score some runs, and I’m going to find a way to get on base twice a day for the team. That’s my goal every day.”
Happ finished the season leading the Cubs in hits (51), slugging percentage (.505) and home runs (12).
In conversations with Happ, Ross found that consistency is more important to the outfielder than a specific spot in the order. Happ has proven he can bat just about everywhere, but he feels he’s at his best when he has a regular spot.
His versatility, both at the plate and in the outfield, opens options for the Cubs this offseason.
It’s no secret the Cubs care trying to diversify their power-heavy lineup. If they can bring in a more traditional leadoff hitter – think DJ LeMahieu with a smaller price tag – Happ could easily slide down a slot or two, or even serve as a “second leadoff” in the nine-hole.
Happ earned the every day starting spot in center field this past season. But if the Cubs bring in a speedier option, Happ could slide over to left field and fill the hole left by Kyle Schwarber (non-tendered).
“We're open to it,” Hoyer said, “but we're also very comfortable and happy to have Ian (stay in center field). His offense, the way he improved last year, I think he improved a lot defensively through hard work, and so we we’re totally comfortable going that direction.”