Central Notes: Happ, Merrifield, Cabrera

With the Cubs currently sitting on a record of 27-44, speculation has naturally started building about players nearing free agency that could be moved at the August 2 trade deadline. One such player who will be coveted by rival teams is Ian Happ, though Happ doesn’t seem to be bothered by being the subject of rumors. “At some point, you get numb to it,” Happ tells Patrick Mooney of The Athletic. “Everybody’s been through it at certain points. It’s something that you just kind of get numb to and understand it’s part of the job.”

Happ’s case will be an interesting one to watch this year, as there are arguments for holding onto him as well as arguments for trading him. He’s slated to reach free agency after the 2023 season, making him a fairly logical trade candidate for a rebuilding team that isn’t likely to be competitive within that time frame. He’s also having the best season of his career, meaning the club might want to put him on the block while his value is at high tide. He’s hitting .288/.385/.475 on the year for a wRC+ of 138. Combined with solid outfield defense, he’s produced 2.2 fWAR on the year, which is already a career high, even with more than half the season still to be played.

However, the Cubs could also extend Happ and keep him around for the next competitive window. Happ seems open to that idea, saying “I’ve always been very clear, too, that I like playing here. This is a great place to play. I would love to be a part of competitive groups in years to come here.”

Some other notes from Central teams…

  • The Royals are 26-43 and will have to decide which of their players will be moved as part of their deadline strategy. Jon Heyman of the New York Post reports that a Whit Merrifield trade is being given more consideration than in previous years. Merrifield has been the subject of trade rumors for a long time, as the club has been mired in a years-long rebuild for essentially his entire big league career. The Royals went 81-81 in 2016, Merrifield’s debut season, but have been below .500 ever since. Despite that, the club has eschewed all trade overtures in past seasons. It would certainly come as a shock if the team were to suddenly change course and agree to a deal now, as Merrifield is having easily the worst season of his career. Through 69 games, he’s hitting .230/.277/.314 for a wRC+ of 66. To spurn offers for years and then suddenly relent when his value is at a low ebb would be a very surprising turn of events. Perhaps the club is concerned that the 33-year-old won’t be able to turn things around, though there’s time for him to do so. His contract runs through next year, with a club option for 2024.
  • The Cardinals announced that left-hander Genesis Cabrera is going on the injured list. No designation for his injury was given, implying that Cabrera has gone on the COVID-related IL. Righty Jake Woodford was recalled to take his place on the active roster. This is the second time COVID has hit the St. Louis bullpen in recent days, as T.J. McFarland also was sidelined earlier this week. Notably, both Cabrera and McFarland are southpaws, leaving the club short-handed on that side of their bullpen. There are two lefties now remaining, although Packy Naughton is more of a long relief option. That leaves Zack Thompson and his 14 2/3 innings of MLB experience as the club’s primary left-handed reliever. Cabrera has become a key asset for the club in recent years, notching 28 holds last year and 10 so far this year. He has a 2.27 ERA here in 2022, despite generating fewer strikeouts. His .193 BABIP and 93.1% strand rate are surely giving him an unsustainable boost, but he’s also lowered his walk rate to 9.3%. That’s still above league average, but much improved over his 12.1% career mark.


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