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Weekly Mailbag: Finding a Partner for Happ, Free Agent Possibilities, and Sign Stealing!



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Baseball news relevant to the Yankees has been relatively scarce since the Gerrit Cole signing, but yesterday proved to be a big day in the Yankee universe, and not in a good way. First, baseball fans awoke to the news that Don Larsen, the only pitcher to throw a perfect game in the World Series, passed away at the age of 90 after a battle with cancer. I felt it when David Cone posted a picture from this year’s Old Timer’s Day of himself with Larsen and David Wells, commemorating the only Yankees to throw perfect games. I hope the Yankees find a classy way to honor Larsen’s life and achievements this season.

Later in the day, MLB announced that Domingo German, who had been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation for the final 18 games of the 2019 season (including playoffs), would be suspended for the first 63 games of the 2020 season for a domestic violence incident that occurred last September. German’s 81 game suspension (including last season’s leave) is the longest suspension for domestic violence in MLB history for an incident which did not include an arrest. The Yankees are now working with a known entity with regards to German’s suspension, but baseball is the last thing I care about. MLB’s statement talked a lot about getting German the help and support he needed, but I wish MLB would have made even a passing statement about making services available to German’s victim, should she want them. I think MLB does a better job at handling incidents of domestic violence than other professional sports leagues, but obviously they all have a long way to go.

Sad day for Yankee fans any way you slice it. With that, we’ll talk about finding a trade for Happ, Free Agent possibilities, and sign stealing!

Brian asks: After the Yankees signed Cole, it seemed like a trade of J.A. Happ was imminent. It’s now been a month with nothing. Is Happ getting traded and who fits? Is there a reason to keep him?

I wouldn’t necessarily count out a Happ trade, although I admit that I am a bit surprised that we haven’t heard more about a Happ trade yet. The real sticking point is Happ’s contract. The real reason the Yankees would seem to be intent on dealing Happ after one down season is that his Luxury Tax hit would likely tip the Yankees over the top Luxury Tax tier for this season, which would cause the Yankees’ 1st round draft pick to drop by 10 spots in addition to the financial implications. Quite simply, the Yankees can save up to $17 million by getting rid of Happ.

That said, the teams that are most likely in the market for a reclamation project like Happ are teams that are fishing on the lower end of the salary spectrum. Looking around baseball, I think the A’s, Angels, Padres, Twins, and Phillies are all teams I could see having interest in someone like JA Happ. However, I think that the Phillies and the Padres are the only teams that will allow themselves to have the financial flexibility to take on a straight salary dump. Personally, from the outset of the off-season, I thought that Happ was a good fit in San Diego. San Diego could use a veteran pitcher to provide some stability to the starting rotation, and given Happ’s propensity to allow the long-ball (spiking to almost 2 HR/9 in 2019, but above 1 even in the previous few seasons), pitching in the cavernous surroundings of Petco Park could be just what the doctor ordered for Happ’s career. Happ and the Padres would be a good match.

It’s all going to depend on how much money, if any, the Yankees are willing to eat, and how good of a prospect the Yankees are willing to attach to Happ in order to facilitate a deal. There are a lot of moving parts there, and it would not shock me if Happ remains with the Yankees into Spring Training, as teams suddenly require pitching due to injuries.

Do I necessarily want Happ on the 2020 pitching staff in an ideal world? No, but Happ may not be a lost cause. Happ pitched much better down the stretch, pitching to a 2.23 ERA in his final 6 starts. The Yankees do not have anyone definitively slotted into the 5th spot in the rotation, and truthfully, the projections for Jordan Montgomery (who many of us would like to see win that spot out of Spring Training) coming off of Tommy John are not much different from JA Happ.

In short, I still think a JA Happ trade will happen, but even if it doesn’t, he can still be a useful piece for the 2020 Yankees.

Rich A. asks: The Yankees haven’t done anything since signing Cole. I know they want to be conscious of all of the luxury tax penalties, but is there a bargain deal that might happen still?

I actually think the Yankees could still play around in the bottom of the Free Agent market. Personally, I think that the Yankees will look for starting pitching depth that can be stashed in the minors, and it would not shock me to see the Yankees sign a utility infielder.

I’m particularly interested in a guy like Chad Bettis. Bettis has struggled the past couple of seasons after returning from testicular cancer, but he could be interesting on a minor league deal. He has been prone to allowing home runs, but he was pitching at Coors Field, which can skew any pitcher’s stats. While Bettis possesses below-average velocity and poor strikeout rates, he is a Statcast darling with regards to allowing soft contact. He also has above-average spin rates on his curveball, so the pieces are there for the Yankee coaching staff to work with. The kicker is that Bettis has battled injuries the last few seasons, but for the first time in a few years, entered the off-season healthy. I think he could be a fit as a minor league stash.

I also am not sold that the Yankees will trust one of Tyler Wade or Thairo Estrada to be the utility infielder/emergency outfielder this year. The Yankees have not shown faith in Wade in previous seasons, and Estrada is a similar player. Brock Holt is still out there, and he could probably be signed for under $5 million for 2020. While that may seem like a lot of money for a utility infielder, that’s a heck of an insurance policy up the middle.

Looking at potential minor league deals, guys like Sean Rodriguez, Matt Duffy, and Ryan Flaherty strike me as guys who play solid defense around the infield who have, at times, been competent offensively. It wouldn’t shock me to see someone in that mold get a non-roster invite to Spring Training.

Otherwise, I agree that the Yankees have already made their most significant signing of the off-season.

Richard P. asks: Whenever they show the Yankee Bullpen on YES, you see Bullpen Coach, Mike Hawkey, always looking at home plate, never the reliever warming up. When the reliever comes in, it takes several batters till the reliever looks sharp. Does Hawkey have Superman vision and is stealing signals and relaying signals with his body movements? I thought that he may have been with the Astros before the Astros moved their centerfield camera!

This one cracked me up – Superman vision is clearly the next frontier in sign stealing. Every bullpen coach is going to have biometric contact lenses that allow the user to create heat maps that show the number of fingers used by the catcher to give signs.

In all seriousness, I think coach Harkey is just watching whatever implosion is happening out on the Yankee Stadium mound so that he’s ready to receive the phone call from Boone or Krause (formerly Rothschild) to make the bullpen switch.

That said, if a story came out tomorrow that the Yankees were also stealing signs, it would not shock me. I honestly believe that every team has been using technology in some capacity to steal signs. However, the Astros method seems far more intricate and egregious than what other teams are doing, hence why other teams have publicly called the Astros out for their tactics. I will be very interested to see what the final outcome of MLB’s investigation is. May we live in interesting times.

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That’s all for this week. Keep sending in you’re questions to sstnreadermail@gmail.com, and I’ll see you all next week!

#JAHapp #ThairoEstrada #TylerWade

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