With Patrick Corbin and Nathan Eovaldi off the table, the New York Yankees need to do all they can to re-sign J.A. Happ.
I‘ll be the first to admit I was wrong about J.A. Happ. I wrote a piece last summer outlining why I didn’t want him in pinstripes, specifically because his fly ball rate mixed with Yankee Stadium’s short porch made me skittish.
Boy, was I wrong. Happ wound up going 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA over 11 starts with the New York Yankees. I also quickly saw the error of my ways and have since called for the team to re-sign the 36-year-old, likening him to David Cone.
Happ surely isn’t the offseason prize fans were expecting. Patrick Corbin and Nathan Eovaldi were the ten-point bucks of free agency, only they were scooped up by the Washington Nationals and Boston Red Sox, respectively. But the offseason is still young, and New York has plenty of time left to make a deal to bolster the roster.
From a pitching standpoint, that deal must be made with none other than J.A. Happ. In fact, he needs to be the front office’s first priority at this stage.
Knowing the AL East
Apart from his still being an excellent pitcher at 36, the main reason the Yankees should go all-in on J.A. Happ are his numbers against Boston. The lanky lefty is 8-4 with a 2.98 ERA in his career against the reigning champion Red Sox, and that’s a tremendous selling point.
The AL East is a hard-hitting division and Boston’s Fenway Park is notoriously hitter-friendly. Having an arm who can contain offense both there and against the Red Sox, in general, is a boon for the Yankees, especially now.
And how did Happ get so successful against Boston? Why, years of experience in the AL East, of course! The man has had two separate stints with the Toronto Blue Jays (2012-14, 2016-18), and he even won 20 games in 2016. Needless to say, he’s familiar with the division the way Rick Sanchez is with the Andromeda Galaxy.
That said, with Boston’s championship roster very much intact and a key pitcher set to return, New York needs to follow suit, and fast.
Bumps in the road
Despite all the reasons why the Yankees should re-sign J.A. Happ, such a move is nowhere near guaranteed.
The first reason is his age. Solid as Happ was in 2018, he’s still 36 years old. That’s nowhere near a spring chicken in baseball years, so Happ won’t be getting anywhere close to the same money Corbin and Eovaldi received.
Look at it this way. Happ made $13 million last year, per Spotrac, and was 17-6 with a 3.65 ERA. Happ also had a career-high 9.78 K/9, but age is age in this case. Realistically speaking, he can probably expect his new deal’s average annual value to be at or around the numbers in his last contract.
Despite that, the Yankees’ next bump in the road regarding Happ is that he’s quite in demand because of his success in New York. In early November Jon Morosi of Fox Sports reported the Cincinnati Reds as showing interest, along with the Minnesota Twins.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) November 7, 2018
Jon Heyman of Fancred later added that the Blue Jays are interested in bringing Happ aboard for a third tour of duty. Heyman also mentioned in November that the New York Mets are interested in the veteran lefty.
This all being said, the Yankees should not get into a bidding war over J.A. Happ. He isn’t the end-all and be-all of the free agent pitching market, as Japanese lefty Yusei Kikuchi has recently been posted by the Seibu Lions. GM Brian Cashman could also swing a deal for an arm in an eventual Sonny Gray trade.
But just like politics, a week is a lifetime in free agency. Corbin and Eovaldi’s deals set the market for sure, but they will probably have little to no impact on what Happ ultimately receives. This means the Yankees need to meet with Happ, give their best and final offer, and then make their next move from there.
The good news for the Yankees is that even if J.A. Happ finds a new team, the pitching staff is already in a far better position than it was last season. Trading for James Paxton ensured that.
The problem is the Yankees still have a hole in their rotation. If Happ signs elsewhere, filling it becomes all the more difficult. This isn’t me saying the team should pay Happ more than he’s worth, but Cashman has to be prepared to do so.
Otherwise, Cash could be banking on Dallas Keuchel suddenly recapturing his Cy Young form. He may be hoping and praying Kikuchi isn’t Kei Igawa 2.0, or that Gray fetches a quality MLB starter in a trade. Maybe he’ll take a one-year flyer on James Shields or Ervin Santana in hopes of landing Rick Porcello or Madison Bumgarner next winter.
Happ is who the Yankees need to round out the rotation in 2019. On top of his dominance of Boston, he proved he can hang in a big market. Give the man his money, let’s say $39 million over three years, and let the results speak for themselves.