The Mysterious Case of J.A. Happ
Coming off of the 2019 season posting a 12-8 record with a 4.91 ERA in 30 starts, J.A. Happ is looking to have a bounce back 2020 season with the Yankees… or whatever team he is with come Opening Day.
Happ is entering the final year of his two-year contract with the Yankees that he signed after a magnificent run with the Yanks during the final two months of the 2018 season, which saw him go 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA. If Happ pitches 165 innings or starts 27 games, his $17 million vesting option for 2021 takes effect.
Happ came close to breaking the 165 innings mark in 2019 with 161.1 innings pitched. However, the 2020 statistics are the only ones that matter in this situation. But the question is if Happ will reach this threshold.
Many would argue that Happ had a horrible 2019 season, considering that he came over from Toronto and by the end of the season was either the best or the second-best starter on the roster. There is no question that Happ’s season was disappointing, but it does not mean that he cannot improve to become a valuable fifth starter.
Domingo German is set to be suspended for nearly the first two and a half months of the 2020 season, which means that there is a starting rotation spot open. Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino, James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka have already secured their spots in the rotation, but Happ, Jordan Montgomery and possibly a few other names will be competing for the final spot.
As for now, I believe Happ is likely safe from being traded. Even though he did make a few appearances last season, the Yankees want Montgomery to be 100 percent ready to take on the starter role. Spring Training is going to be the only way to tell if Montgomery is ready to not just start, but to give the Yankees plenty of innings. If Aaron Boone is not 100 percent certain that he can do that, the decision is going to be much harder to make.
Although the Yankees would love to clear up the $17 million that Happ is set to make this season, they may see him as their fifth starter. After all, they will still have to eat most of his contract to even get rid of him if they do decide to trade him.
There is one situation as to why Happ might have a much better 2020 season… Matt Blake. Let’s quickly recap Happ’s tenure in the Bronx. He has a stellar two months with the Yankees after being acquired from the Blue Jays. He had yet to become accustom to Larry Rothschild’s pitching style, which resulted in his hot start. The 2019 season ends, which sees his ERA drop over a full run from 2018 and many of his numbers taking hits as well.
The point is not to ridicule Rothschild, but to show that Happ can definitely revive himself with a little help from an analytical mind like Blake. I believe it is worth taking a risk, especially considering that Happ could possibly become a strong, reliable starter again.
But we will just have to see if Happ even makes it that far.