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updated: 3/21/2017 12:55 PM

Rozner: Chicago Cubs' Happ can blame Epstein for numbers problem

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  • Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, left, and manager Joe Maddon are dealing with such an embarrassment of baseball riches that there is no place on the major-league roster for young players like Ian Happ.

    Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, left, and manager Joe Maddon are dealing with such an embarrassment of baseball riches that there is no place on the major-league roster for young players like Ian Happ.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
 

This is probably Theo Epstein's fault.

Or perhaps Jason McLeod should share in the blame.

But something about their plan just isn't quite coming together.

Face it, the Chicago Cubs have too many good players.

For all their artistry and orchestrating, the Cubs have a numbers problem.

Yeah, sure, they won a World Series in the face of much doubt about their five-year plan, and maybe seven remains more than six, but where are all these guys going to play?

Ian Happ, for example, is destroying baseballs in Arizona this spring -- hitting .400-plus with an OPS over 1.200 -- and the way he's hitting, the 2015 first-round pick would find a place to play on most teams.

But the Cubs are not most teams.

Happ, a switch hitter, has played all three outfield positions in the minors, but Jason Heyward is in right and he's not leaving any time soon.

Albert Almora, the Cubs' top pick in 2012, is all of 22 and is poised to take over in center field. Defensively, he could be among the best in the game.

Kyle Schwarber, the Cubs' top pick in 2014, will be in left field and has a chance to lead the league in home runs. He's so professional a hitter that he ducked out of rehab, walked out onto a major-league field with about 20 minutes' notice and hit .412 in the World Series.

That's pretty normal.

Kris Bryant, the Cubs' top pick in 2013, is merely the reigning MVP and he'll spend most of his time at third.

Has a decent future.

Shortstop Addison Russell is 23 and just scratching the surface of his potential. Brilliant in the field, Russell had 3 homers and 13 RBI in the last 13 games of 2016. Those 13 games are also known in some circles as the NLCS and World Series. He leads the Cubs with 5 spring-training home runs.

Not going anywhere.

Happ is primarily a second baseman, but Ben Zobrist will share second base with Javy Baez, the Cubs' top pick in 2011 under Jim Hendry. Baez has turned the tag at the bag into a play-of-the-week candidate.

A tag. A highlight. Every week. Absurd.

First baseman Anthony Rizzo has been top four in MVP voting the last two years and top 10 the last three years while averaging 32 homers, 96 RBI, 92 runs and an OPS of .913. He won a Gold Glove in 2016.

Willson Contreras hasn't played half a season and he's the starting catcher. He had an OPS of .845 in 76 games with 12 home runs.

So where's Ian Happ going to play?

"He's in the conversation," manager Joe Maddon told reporters over the weekend in Arizona.

But what conversation? There's no room at the inn. So Happ will have to go to the minors and continue to crush the ball.

"He's going to have to go out and play," Maddon said. "Listen, I think he's really good. He's a major-league player, absolutely.

"But you don't know what's going to happen during the season. You don't know how he's going to react to the beginning part of the year. With guys like that, let them go play and they'll let you know when they're ready."

The 22-year-old Happ has only 248 at-bats in Double-A. Then again, Schwarber had only 257 at-bats at Double-A and Triple-A combined before his promotion to Chicago in 2015.

He forced the Cubs to call him up.

Still, Happ will have to wait for a trade, an injury or poor performance.

These things have a way of working themselves out. The Cubs will need pitching at some point this season as they attempt to repeat as champs and someone will have to go in return.

Baez? Over Maddon's dead body. Almora? The Cubs think he has huge potential and hasn't even gotten a chance to play.

Eloy Jimenez? Epstein just spit up in his coffee. Happ? It's hard to imagine.

As it is, Gleyber Torres is the No. 5 prospect in baseball, but his trade for Aroldis Chapman meant a World Series for the Cubs, and no one will feel bad about watching him become a star in New York.

The Cubs have other chips to deal and maybe none of the aforementioned will be involved.

That doesn't answer the question for Happ about when he arrives, or how the Cubs will solve the problem of having too many good, young players.

Happ can blame Epstein for that.

brozner@dailyherald.com

• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM.

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