The New York Yankees should be looking at these five teams in trade talks involving LHP J.A. Happ.
It’s just the move that makes the most sense. Happ is 37, due $17 million in 2020, and posted a 4.91 ERA last year while allowing a career-worst 34 home runs.
Simply put, the Yankees need to rid themselves of Happ faster than George Costanza did his infamous bathroom book. High-upside youngster Jordan Montgomery is recovered from Tommy John surgery and waiting in the wings. Deivi Garcia is also looming and Chad Green can still be used as an opener if necessary.
The problem is given Happ’s age and price tag, trading him won’t be easy for GM Brian Cashman. It’s not a matter of if the Yankees will chip in on the remaining salary, but how much.
Thankfully, plenty of teams still need pitching even as free agency winds down. If New York can move Happ to any of the following teams, the starting rotation becomes easier to put together.
No. 5: Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates are in the midst of a rebuild, and every rebuilding squad needs a seasoned veteran. Pittsburgh also ranked 26th in baseball with a staff ERA of 5.18. Save for Chris Archer, no one who made a start for the Pirates in 2019 is currently in their thirties.
Happ, on the other hand, could reset in the Steel City. He pitched half a season for the Pirates in 2015 and was instrumental in helping the team to a National League Wild Card berth. Thanks to pitching coach Ray Searage, Happ was 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA in a Pittsburgh uniform.
Pittsburgh is about to enter a new era under manager Derek Shelton and the team needs someone who has been through a rebuild before. Happ has been around the block and could help guide this young squad through the process. Moreover, no-pressure Pittsburgh is a prime place for him to right the ship.
That is, it will be if the Yankees are willing to take back low-level minor leaguers and cover about half of Happ’s remaining salary.
No. 4: Seattle Mariners
Seattle, like Pittsburgh, is also not in a position to contend in 2020. The pitching staff has a lot of question marks, especially with former Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez out of the picture.
Like the Pirates, the Mariners have also had Happ on the roster before. Happ was 4-6 with a 4.64 ERA for them before being dealt to the Pirates.
Seattle doesn’t have a lot to offer, but Cashman and GM Jerry Dipoto have familiarity following last year’s James Paxton trade. With an unstable pitching staff heading into the new decade, Seattle should be fine giving up lower-tier prospects and/or international slot money. It’s really just a question of how much of Happ’s salary New York would cover in the deal.
No. 3: Miami Marlins
Speaking of familiarity, it can be argued that Marlins owner Derek Jeter owes Cashman a favor. After all, the Yankees acquired Giancarlo Stanton from Miami only after Jeter’s attempts to trade with other teams had failed.
This time, however, the shoe is on the other foot. The Yankees need to unload Happ’s salary which, though not as large as Stanton’s, is proving burdensome. Miami’s rotation also has some significant holes and Happ, despite his age, could prove a nice placeholder for a year or two.
However, there’s a catch. The Marlins are truly rebuilding from the ground up. If this deal becomes a reality, the Yankees need to be prepared to get little to nothing back. It might just be international slot money and, in this case, that’s fine.
No. 2: Detroit Tigers
The Tigers lost 114 games in 2019 and 2020 won’t fare much better. Even if former Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer is back in top form, Detroit won’t move the needle.
That said, the Yankees should engage with the Tigers on Happ for one reason: why not? The Tigers ranked 28th in the majors with a 5.28 staff ERA last year. The only thing the pitching staff has to look forward to besides Fulmer’s return is the potential debut of top pitching prospect Casey Mize.
As for Happ, he can do in Detroit what he would do in Pittsburgh were he traded there: compete in a no-pressure environment while trying to right himself on the mound.
It also helps that Comerica Park being large and pitcher-friendly, so a move to the Motor City could be just what Happ needs even if he does just wind up being a good pitcher on a bad team.
No. 1: Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers are an interesting spot for Happ. Miller Park isn’t exactly pitcher-friendly, and Milwaukee isn’t looking to add big money. For context, the team traded righty Zach Davies to the San Diego Padres last month, and he only made $2.6 million last year.
Now, Milwaukee’s rotation looks questionable at best. Brandon Woodruff is capable as an ace, but everyone after him has some question marks. Josh Lindblom just signed a three-year contract after spending two-plus years playing in Korea. Adrian Houser and Eric Lauer are both inexperienced, and Brett Anderson can get hurt at any time.
However, there could be a solution. Back during the Winter Meetings, Andy Martino of SNY reported the Brewers as a “team to watch” in Happ trade talks. A lot has changed since then, but the fact remains the Brewers still need pitching.
New York may have to sweeten the pot by attaching pitching prospects, maybe Luis Medina or Luis Gil, as well as some money.
It won’t be a pretty process but the Yankees don’t really have a choice. Montgomery is recovered. Garcia is waiting in the wings. Domingo German can come back from his domestic violence suspension on June 5.
This means the Yankees need to call these teams about Happ, especially before his value falls any further.