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Looking At: J.A. Happ Rumored Suitors

There is an important distinction between the market for yesterday’s pitcher James Paxton and today’s pitcher J.A. Happ. With Paxton, his market is mainly teams hoping to capture lightning in a bottle set to explode. With Happ, it’s mainly teams looking to stay afloat. He’s not a Yankees target, but lets see where he may land in 2021.

 

The Boston Red Sox:

When the Yankees acquired J.A. Happ originally at the 2018 Trade Deadline, they did so as a way to counter the Red Sox by bringing in a pitcher who had success against them in Fenway Park. To this day, Fenway Park is the stadium in which Happ has his most innings pitched in a non-home ballpark, all while keeping the Red Sox to a 2.57 ERA against him. While he’s had success in Fenway however, why would the Red Sox be interested?

There is an old adage in baseball that a left-handed pitcher will never die and that some team will always give them a chance. Add in his reputation of decent success throughout his career and even going into his age-38 season teams are interested in J.A. Happ. It also helps that in 2020, Happ did have the second best ERA (3.47) across Yankees starting pitchers and has been just above average in his career by ERA+ (104).

However, this is less about Happ and more about the disaster of a rotation the Red Sox had last season. They lost Chris Sale to Tommy John Surgery, traded away David Price, had Eduardo Rodriguez sit out on health issues, and ultimately had to start 16 different pitchers over a 60 game season. If and when Chris Sale returns, the Red Sox are likely to have Eovaldi at the top of the rotation. To make matters worse, they had the 3rd worst team ERA (5.58), worst team WHIP (1.60), and worst BAA (.281). Happ would at least give them an arm to take some innings at a league average level.

 

The Los Angeles Angels:

The Los Angeles Angels are another team that finds themselves in a pickle with their starting rotation. The Angels have had a very hard time creating a formidable rotation in recent years and seem to always be players on the free agent starting pitcher market. After a season where they have found their best arms getting hurt, the interest in Happ isn’t unreasonable.

Happ has been a durable starter for most of his career and would serve as a good, league-average (I’ll keep coming back to this) innings eater in the back of a rotation. Outside of a great signing last offseason with Dylan Bundy, the Angels other pitchers leave something to be desired. It would be much easier on them as well if Shohei Ohtani could stay on the field, but unfortunately the two-way experiment isn’t working out as they hoped.

There is also a front office connection to Happ as well as new General Manager Perry Minasian was with the Toronto Blue Jays on both occasions that they brought in J.A. Happ in 2012 and as a free agent in 2015/16. At the very least, Happ would likely help the Angels fix the MLB’s 5th worst ERA from 2020 (5.09).

 

The Toronto Blue Jays:

Speaking of having experience with bringing in/signing J.A. Happ, we’ll again go north of the border in this quick series. The Blue Jays originally brought in JA Happ from the Houston Astros in 2012, then they traded him before 2015 to the Seattle Mariners before signing him back as a free agent for 2016. Then, they traded him to the Yankees in 2018…before signing him back as a free agent for 2021?

The Blue Jays have already been on the free agent market with signing Robbie Ray to a 1-Year/$8 Million deal to add to a rotation of Hyun-Jin Ryu and Nate Pearson. While the Blue Jays had a near league-average rotation in 2020, this move may seem a little out-of-place as they’re said to be willing to spend big this offseason and bring in some top talent. A move for a league-average pitcher wouldn’t move the needle much. He also isn’t a “needed” lefty for the rotation either as both Ryu and Ray are also southpaws.

The problem is that the free agent starting pitcher market is incredibly weak and Happ does have a benefit with the Blue Jays (as with the Red Sox) for his experience within the AL East. Across the league teams also have this odd tendency to bring back veteran arms who spent a while with their organizations as a “goodbye” reunion, of which Happ has pitched a plurality of his career for the Blue Jays. Truthfully, I don’t see why they should bring him back (again), but I hope it happens.

 

Quick Notes on Some Other Teams With Some Interest:

The Texas Rangers:

The Rangers are rebuilding after posting the worst AL record in 2020 and are likely to try their younger players going into 2021. This likely means a trade of Lance Lynn is going to happen, which opens up a spot in the rotation. To bring in J.A. Happ would mean that they would be looking to him as a veteran innings eater to help supplement their development of young pitchers, serve as a mentor, and keep the rotation solidified. However, if there are other more promising teams interested in his service, the Rangers are likely going to need to offer a bigger than necessary contract to get the lefty.

The Seattle Mariners:

The Mariners make this list as the MLBTR expected landing spot for J.A. Happ going into the 2021 season. There have been no rumors connecting him to Seattle, but, I like to think the writers over there have a good sense of what’s going on behind the scenes. Likely this move would be in the same vein as the Rangers as the Mariners would bring in a veteran on a rebuilding team to eat innings.

 

Article By: Ethan Semendinger

Date Published: November 25th, 2020

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