The New York Yankees are shopping veteran lefty J.A. Happ to clear luxury tax space for free-agent star Gerrit Cole.
Per Sherman, the Yankees are looking to deal Happ’s $17 million contract as a means of softening a potential luxury tax blow.
“Happ completed the first season of a two-year, $34 million contract in 2019, so he counts $17 million toward the luxury-tax payroll. The Yankees know that in 2020 they will be over the first luxury-tax threshold of $208 million and probably the second penalty level of $228 million as well. But if they were able to move even most of Happ’s contract, then they probably can avoid the top penalty level of a payroll above $248 million.”
Happ turned 37 in October and is coming off of a forgettable year for the Yankees. It was the first season of a two-year, $34 million deal. He went 12-8 with a 4.91 ERA and surrendered a career-worst 34 home runs in just 161.1 innings. Eventually, Happ was relegated to pitching in relief behind an opener.
As for the trade rumors, it isn’t a surprise at all. I even wrote a piece noting how if the Yankees were serious about Cole or Stephen Strasburg, or any pitcher, Happ should be moved.
Now, it appears the Yankees are ramping up their pursuit of Cole, leaving J.A. Happ as the odd man out. Trading him won’t be easy because of his salary, age, and rough 2019. Happ also has a $17 million vesting option for 2021 which kicks in if he throws 165 innings or makes 27 starts.
If the Yankees offer to cover some of the remaining salary and also add a prospect or two, a deal can be made quickly.
Stay tuned to ESNY for more updates.