The Chicago Cubs continue to fall short of expectations in Craig Counsell's first season on the job. Aside from the remarkable Cy Young candidacy of rookie Shota Imanaga, not much has gone right. Cody Bellinger is struggling, the bullpen is a mess, and Counsell — the new highest-paid manager in MLB history — constantly upsets the fanbase with absurd decisions.

Something has to change eventually. At 33-35, the Cubs are seven games behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers (managed by Counsell's former bench coach) and tied with the Cincinnati Reds, who appear to have far more positive momentum. This season is rapidly approaching the crisis zone.

There's a good chance that Chicago ends up selling at the deadline, rather than adding pieces for a postseason run. Counsell wasn't brought in to shepherd a rebuild, but hey, the Cubs are running out of options if their current slide continues. Maybe the bats come alive and Jed Hoyer can add a few quality relief arms. It's too early in the season to write the obituary on the 2024 Cubs. But, if the Cubs can't turn it around fast, expect the front office to restock the farm system ahead of the July 30 trade deadline.

One underrated trade candidate is Ian Happ, who has struggled to produce up to his usual standards in the outfield. Happ is batting a career-worst .215/.323/.364 with six home runs and 30 RBI across 228 AB. Still, he's signed through the 2026 season at roughly $20.3 million annually, so there could be a trade market out there.

One team pitched as a potential landing spot by Jim Bowden of The Athletic ($) is the Atlanta Braves.

Cubs-Braves trade centered on Ian Happ could benefit both sides

For the Braves, this is an investment in the present. Ronald Acuña Jr. is sidelined for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL, which pushed Adam Duvall into full-time right field duties. The Braves need an upgrade in the outfield — another stable source of power to revitalize their uncharacteristically anemic offense.

We should expect positive regression from Matt Olson, Austin Riley, and the Braves stars eventually. But right now, Atlanta's offense is a weakness more than a strength, and the Phillies continue to extend their lead in the shockingly lopsided NL East. Happ hasn't been great this season, but he's coming off a 21-home run, 84-RBI campaign in 2023. Atlanta can hope that a change of scenery and a more competitive environment brings out the best in Happ.

As for Chicago, it's a chance to dump Happ's contract and start fresh in the outfield. Perhaps Pete Crow-Armstrong gets extended reps and a chance to grow in the MLB ecosystem. The Cubs can net a talented prospect in return — ideally a pitcher with some starting-level upside — and focus on the future.

Happ's contract could be viewed as a burden in Chicago, while the Braves pay for 2.5 years of team control. Assuming there's optimism in Happ's ability to rebound and achieve a more standard level of production, there is serious win-win potential. The Braves push their chips in, while the Cubs take a step back to reassess.

It's unclear how the Braves would handle Happ's role next season once Acuña returns — perhaps Jarred Kelenic gets platooned in left field — but Atlanta's focus should be competing now, because title windows close quickly in the MLB. We've seen Alex Anthopoulos guide the Acuña-less Braves to a World Series with effective trade deadline maneuvers before. Why not twice?

This article was originally published on as Surprise Cubs slugger listed as an outfield solution for a desperate team.

2024-06-13T18:23:48Z dg43tfdfdgfd