NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 09: J.A. Happ #34 of the New York Yankees reacts in the dugout after he was pulled from the game in the sixth inning against the Seattle Mariners at Yankee Stadium on May 09, 2019 in the Bronx borough of New York City.
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is making a mistake by going with J.A. Happ as the team’s fifth starter.

On Thursday, Jan. 23, New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman announced that J.A. Happ would serve as the team’s fifth starter. (Obviously, he those are only words, but Cashman’s assertiveness in this area is interesting, to say the least.)

After the Yankees made the biggest move of the offseason, by signing starting pitcher Gerrit Cole to a mega-deal, rumors began to swirl that they would look to move Happ.

Cashman debunked those rumors with authority, claiming Happ is very much a part of the 2020 starting rotation. On YES Network’s “Yankees Hot Stove,” Cashman said he’s confident that Happ will show an improvement in 2020. He also noted Happ’s improvement in the second half of last season.

Happ, 37, will make $17 million this year. If the Yankees are truly serious about hanging onto Happ, they are making a huge mistake, despite the natural flow of pitching injuries witnessed during any one given season.

Even though Happ did improve in the second half of last season (he gave up just five runs in his last 27.3 IP) he was still one of the worst pitchers in baseball. He finished the year with a 4.91 ERA, 1.295 WHIP, 90 ERA+ and 5.22 FIP in 161.1 IP. Due to his immense struggles during the regular season, he was left out of the rotation in both the ALDS and ALCS.

Now that the Yankees have a Cole Train to confidently ride, Happ’s presence on the team is even less of a necessity. However, Cashman’s position regarding the fifth starting spot is somewhat understandable.

Domingo German is going to miss at least the first two months of the season as part of his suspension, and even so, his future with the organization is still unclear. Additionally, no one knows just how reliable Jordan Montgomery can be as a starter moving forward.

The Yankees acquired Happ in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2018 when he became an All-Star for the first time in his career. He looked rejuvenated upon arriving in the Bronx. Over 63.2 innings, he posted a 2.69 ERA, 1.052 WHIP and 7-0 record. Things really began to fall off for him in his last start of the 2018 regular season when he allowed four earned runs in six innings pitched.

This carried into his sole postseason start of 2018 when he allowed five earned runs over two innings. Happ has been a consistently decent pitcher throughout the majority of his career. He has a career ERA of 3.99, 1.308 WHIP, 103 ERA+ and 4.21 FIP over the span of 13 years.

Taking all of that into consideration, nothing Happ has done, especially recently, should have warranted such a contract. The veteran is holding down a roster spot and money that can be allocated elsewhere. While there’s no question the extra rotation arm is a plus now, gobbling up assets via trade (in exchange of a new deal) is the obvious move to make.

In other (simpler) words: the Yankees need to move him the moment the return is worthwhile. It’s much easier to keep young guys—-like Montgomery or German—-who won’t cost as much.

By trading Happ, the Yankees can free up payroll and provide the younger pitchers a chance. It’s extremely unlikely that Happ will have a great season next year and the vet is not getting any younger.

If the Yankees were to come to the realization that they want to try to trade Happ, they would most likely need to add a prospect to the deal and/or eat some of his 2020 salary. He is coming off a horrible season, and at the ripe age of 37, teams will need more of an incentive to trade for the southpaw. He is a veteran with experience, even in the playoffs, so he would make a positive addition to many rotations.

The Yankees have financial obligations to many players and J.A. Happ cannot be one of them. Keeping him around beyond his current deal would prove to be a mistake.

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