How was your week?

Posted: April 15, 2023 by Sports Time Radio in sports

Earlier this week the Chicago Cubs signed Ian Happ to a three-year contract extension and while terms of the deal weren’t disclosed it was reported that the deal was for $61 million dollars. Happ’s new deal doesn’t kick in until next season and it will keep him under contract with the Cubs through the 2026 season.

When Happ’s name came up for some reason a memory came back about something that was going to be the new wave in Major League Baseball and it just never happened like it was predicted it would.

Happ was the Cubs 1st round pick in 2015 and quickly made his way through their minor league system and debut during the 2017 season. When Happ was brought up Theo Epstein was still the Cubs President of Baseball Operations. Epstein coined the term “super-utility” when it came to Happ. What the term was supposed to mean was that Happ would play multiple position and grow into a star.

At first that was the case with Happ as he logged inning at all three-outfield position, 3rd base, 1st base and 2nd base, but Happ never did and still hasn’t developed into that top player that Epstein promised.

Happ did win his first Gold Glove last season, but he won that Gold Glove as a full-time leftfielder for the Cubs not some “super-utility” player who played multiple positions.

Now Epstein wasn’t the only baseball executive who was talking about “super-utility” players and there were even people on the MLB Network that discussed it happened, but it never did.

The question then becomes why didn’t teams ever develop these types of players after they all seem set on doing it. Obviously, baseball is a difficult game to play when you’re playing every day at just one position. Imagine what it would be like to know you’re in the lineup every day, but you don’t know what position you’ll be playing. I believe that this would be very difficult for players to handle mentally.

Now every team has a player or two on their roster that can play multiple positions, but that player is generally on the roster to fill for a starter who’s being given the day off. That utility player normally isn’t in the lineup every day and they aren’t considered superstars.

I think the most recent player who got close to being what Epstein described as a “super-utility” player may have been Ben Zobrist.

Epstein actually signed Zobrist as a free agent in the off season before the start of the 2016 season and Zobrist spent the next four seasons with the Cubs. You’d have to think that this is where Epstein came up with the “super-utility” distinction for Happ.

Zobrist spent 14 years in the majors. He spent most of his career with the Tampa Bay Rays before playing for both the Kansas City Royals and the Oakland A’s during the 2015 season before joining the Cubs for his final four seasons.

In his career Zobrist played 911 games at 2nd base, 466 games in rightfield, 236 games at shortstop, 223 games in leftfield, 34 games in centerfield, 27 games at 1st base, 8 games at 3rd base and he even pitched 1 time. Zobrist did appear in 28 games as a DH, but that really doesn’t factor in to what a utility player does.

Looking at those numbers Zobrist fits the mold of what a “super-utility” player would be, but would you classify him as a superstar? Zobrist played for two World Series winners and was the Most Valuable Player of the 2016 World Series when he was with the Cubs, but I don’t think of him as a superstar. He was a very talented player to be able to move around and play all those different positions, but do you consider him to be a superstar?

So, when you start looking at baseball today is there anyone that could be a superstar as a “super-utility” player? I don’t mean an outfielder who can play all three outfield spots. Also, Shohei Ohtani isn’t a utility player because the only time he actually plays defense now is when he pitches.

A couple of seasons back there looked like there was a player that might’ve been able to pull off the ‘super-utility” spot. Kris Bryant started his career as a full-time 3rd baseman, but he has also played some 1st base, all three outfield positions and spent a little bit of time at shortstop. Bryant is a former Rookie of the Year and he’s also won a Most Valuable Player award as well as playing for a World Series winner the 2016 Cubs.

Injuries really slowed down Bryant’s career, but he’s off to a hot start this season as a member of the Colorado Rockies, but it appears as though he no longer fits into that “super-utility” category as he’s only played in the outfield the last two season with Colorado.

So let me know what you think. Is there a player out there that can handle playing multiple positions while being one of the best players in the game? There are plenty of guys that do and can play multiple positions. Do you ever see one of them breaking through and becoming one of the top players in baseball?

And yes, it is a little weird that the Happ contract extension brought back this memory for me, but for some reason it did and that’s not a knock-on Ian Happ.

Don’t forget to look for me on Twitter, I’m @Burketime.

  1. That’s a tough one to call. To me, a super utility player doesn’t fit the mold of a HOF type player or even an MVP. He’s a very valuable player and able to play multiple positions and that can really help out a team but would that be enough to qualify him as one of the best player’s in baseball.
    It is good to see Bryant off to a good start this season. We’ll see if he can finally play a season injury free and maybe he’ll be the player who can be your designated super utility player. But remember it’s a long, long season and injuries are going to happen sooner or later. And I think his hot start will taper off before long.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Daniel Kupres says:

    As a Cubs fan, I hope this deal works but I really don’t see him as a $20M a year player. I can’t wait until 2026 when you decide if this contract was a bust or not. Btw, what happened to Bote?


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