[Updated] Yankees and Happ: Reunited Through 2020 (Vesting Option for ’21)
As reported by Ken Rosenthal early in the morning on the third day of the 2018 Winter Meetings, the Yankees and J.A. Happ had agreed to a 3-Year Deal.
Then, minutes later, Ken Rosenthal redacted his statement, saying that the Yankees and Happ were closing in on a deal, but nothing was agreed to yet.
However, now nine hours later, it appears as though Ken Rosenthal was ahead of his time with the news. Mark Feinsand reports that the Yankees and J.A. Happ have officially come to a deal to bring the left-handed pitcher back to the Bronx on a two-year deal with a vesting option for a third year (which at this time is said to be based on innings and/or starts).
Update (11:30PM): Joel Sherman confirms that the deal is for two-years (with a 3rd year vesting option based on starts and/or innings pitched), and has announced that J.A. Happ will be making a salary of $17M for each of the three years. (2/$34M or 3/$51M). Tweet Here.
Solidifying a Solid Rotation:
This is the 2nd (or 3rd if you count resigning CC Sabathia) starting pitcher that the Yankees have brought to the team this year, and the roster now currently sets them up to have six starters for the 2019 season: Luis Severino, recently acquired James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Sonny Gray (who will be traded), and now J.A. Happ.
Last year, Happ, now 36, in his age-35 season pitched 177.2 innings over 31 starts with both the Toronto Blue Jays and the Yankees to a solid 3.65 ERA. He had an above average ERA+ of 117 (100 is league average), had a FIP that was under 4.00 (at 3.98), and a WHIP of 1.13. He also struck out 197 batters as opposed to giving up only 51 walks, and was worth about 3.3 bWAR.
All-in-all, it was a very solid regular season- especially given how he pitched against the Red Sox: 1.99 ERA, 1.015 WHIP, 29 K’s in 22.2 innings. His postseason was different, but let’s not dwell on such a small sample size against the team that ended up winning it all.
For 2019, BaseballReference has his projections at the following: (which includes an expected age-related decline)
164.0 IP, 3.73 ERA, 160 K, 53 BB, 1.238 WHIP, and a HR9 of 1.2 (last season it was 1.4).
He is not a innings-eating workhorse, nor the ace of a staff, but J.A. Happ should look to be a solid #4 or #5 starter for the 2019 season.
The Most Left-Handed Yankees Rotation Since 2002…or 1997?
With the addition of J.A. Happ, the Yankees are now set-up to start a team that has the most left-handed starters (Paxton, Happ, Sabathia) going into a season since 2002.
When all was said and done, the 2002 Yankees used primarily six starting pitchers to get through the season, of which three were southpaws (Andy Pettitte, David Wells, and Ted Lilly). However, the Yankees traded Ted Lilly half-way through the season, so the team effectively used a 5-Man rotation with 3-RHP for the greater part of the 2002 season. So, conventional math would say that the Yankees of 2002 did not have a more left-handed rotation (~3/6) than this team should employ.
To truly tie the current 3/5 LHP Rotation that the Yankees are expected to start the season with, one would have to go back to the 1997 Yankees, who had two of the same left-handed pitchers as above in Pettitte and Wells, and newcomer (or is it old-timer because we are going back in history?) Kenny Rogers. All of whom pitched the whole season for those Yankees. (And, if you want to reminisce a little on this team, remember the Yankees did have another interesting pitcher play for them: Wade Boggs.)
It’s without a doubt that adding J.A. Happ makes the Yankees a better team for the 2019 season, given that he will effectively be replacing Sonny Gray in the rotation. Happ is a very solid arm for where he will be pitching in the rotation, and should be one of the guys who will give the Yankees constant innings throughout the long season.
However, this should not be the last move the Yankees make regarding their rotation. There is a lot of age in the rotation (both Happ and CC are above 36 years old) and a lot of injury concerns (Paxton, Tanaka’s Elbow). The Yankees are putting a lot of stock in the hope that Luis Severino can fix himself from the second-half of last year.
The Yankees can (and should) continue to add to this rotation for the betterment of their team, and while the rumors aren’t in favor of it, trying to work a deal with the Mets and Marlins for catcher J.T. Realmuto (to the Mets), Noah Syndergaard (to the Yankees), and NYY/NYM prospects to the Marlins would make sense. (Obviously this is not a full proposal, the Mets would need more than a catcher for a top-tier SP and prospects, but the framework is there.)
Actual Final Thoughts:
I don’t know exactly how to feel about the J.A. Happ signing. I think my feelings will change depending on how the rest of the off-season goes.
If this is it for the starting rotation, I’m not super thrilled given how much of a priority the front office had on emphasizing their pitching needs. When you’re told that stating pitching is a huge priority and two of the pitchers acquired are just the re-signed JA Happ and C.C. Sabathia, it feels like a let down of sorts. If this isn’t the last piece, I look forward to seeing how the Yankees enhance this roster and rotation.
I’ll echo what Mike said on RiverAveBlues this morning when the initial report came out that the Yankees and Happ signed, “I’m not overwhelmed or underwhelmed. I’m just whelmed.”