Marcus Stroman, Cubs (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Ian Happ will be manning the outfield at Wrigley Field for the foreseeable future. He just might help make the case for Marcus Stroman to stay, too.

Early this season, the Chicago Cubs inked a three-year extension with Ian Happ worth over $60 million to keep him at Wrigley Field for the immediate future.

Happ, the 28-year-old who was behind just Willson Contreras last year in slugging percentage has struggled on both sides of the field since that extension, fifth in slugging this year on the roster and -3 in outs above average in the outfield (he registered a +2 last season).

But on Thursday night, he came alive with the game of the season. Offensively, he had three hits and two RBI. But the moment of the night was an elite catch in left field on a diving play to end the top of the fourth inning and keep Marcus Stroman’s quality start going.

Ian Happ coming alive could help Cubs gain confidence in Marcus Stroman extension

The Cubs haven’t been cheap lately, but their purchases have not panned out in a way that gives the front office confidence to spend even more money.

Though Dansby Swanson has been a great addition at shortstop, his OPS is down after the Cubs committed $177 million over seven years.

Jameson Taillon has been an absolute shell of himself with a 1.510 WHIP, a 6.7 ERA, and a 2-4 record after he was a big offseason addition as well. He got $68 million for four years.

Not all the investments have been disastrous, but none of these three have exactly stood out as elite usages of financial resources.

Marcus Stroman’s performance this year, on the other hand, has been nothing short of elite. He’s been the team’s best starter, and electric in almost every start. With a league-leading ground ball rate, he’s created outs for the Cubs’ offense to have breathing room to get to work.

Out of seemingly nowhere, Stroman is a Cy Young candidate for 2023. A free agent (presumably, he’ll opt out of his player option this year) this winter, the Cubs could extend him. Stroman has been open about his own desire to make an extension work, indicating the hold-up is on the franchise’s end.

That makes some sense. While it looks like an extension for Stroman should be considered straightforward, there’s trepidation over extending pitchers above 30, even if they’re performing at remarkably high levels. The idea of the likely decline ahead of them is hard to get past.

That mental hurdle is even more difficult when you’re looking at recent payroll committed to assets that haven’t worked out. None of that is Stroman’s fault, but it makes the Cubs want to clench their payroll even tighter. The next big spends they make have to work out, or they’re looking at many more years of mediocre-to-bad baseball.

If Happ, though, can prove the Cubs were right to invest in him, perhaps it creates more openness for Chicago to use some money to get Stroman the extension he wants.

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