JA Happ was an enigma for the New York Yankees this season. By and large, the 2020 season for Happ was an exercise in mediocrity. 34 home runs, over 161.1 innings pitched, 140 strikeouts, and an ERA of 4.91. Sure, he “figured it out” down the stretch, but it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that he was demoted to bullpen work in the playoffs.
But, the Yankees have a question that needs answering. The starting rotation is in shambles. You have Tanaka, Severino, and Paxton as your obvious front 3 based off last season. Sabathia retired, and no one is sure about Domingo German. Paxton is still under contract for the next 2 seasons, with a guaranteed option kicking in for 2021 if he makes 27 starts and pitches 165 innings. So what do you do with Happ? (mlb.com)
Do you start him?
The New York Yankees need to sign one, if not two, front line pitchers. During a free agency with Cole, Strasburg, Bumgartner, and Ryu on the market, you have to sign one of them. Yes, you can’t have 5 pitchers with all-star seasons, but could you imagine 4 straight starts with Severino, Paxton, Tanaka and one of those 4 I listed in a row? How can you NOT salivate?
The problem in retaining Happ is that a bad season this late in his career will ultimately lead to more bad seasons. The guy is 39 years old, scheduled to pitch till he’s 41, He’s averaged a 14-10 record over the length of his career with an ERA just under 4.00. And if the Domingo German situation resolves in such a way that he comes back to start, German is UNQUESTIONABLY the 5th guy on the totem pole. He had 153 strikeouts, 39 walks, gave up 69 runs on 125 hits over 143 innings. Oh, yea, and an 18-4 record. He’s a number 3 or number 4 starter. Happ is truly expendable, but who will take him for $34 million?
Mike Fires is probably one of the better trade options the Yankees could get. Should the A’s agree to pick up most of the rest of Happ’s contract, Fires is owed a meager $8.1 million for 2020. That’ll be the end of his contract. He’ll be 35 years old, and has been averaging a 14-6 record, 175 innings pitched, a 3.75 ERA, 130 K’s, and 40 walks over the last two seasons. He’s also averaging about 30 home runs a season over that span, but Happ also gave up 35 home runs over last year. So… you’re upgrading with Fires, as well as saving about half of what you’d pay Happ next year.
It’s unquestionable that Happ is the odd man out in the Yankees rotation next season. Trading him makes the most sense. If we don’t nab one of the big-name free agents, we can package Happ for the young prospective pitcher, by packaging Happ with someone like Nestor Cortes Jr., Luis Cesa, or even Jordan Montgomery. Other trade options exist, but Fires is the one I think makes the most sense.
This was just another prime example of the Yankees paying lip service. “Oh, we want to stay under the luxury tax, but we’re going to field a championships quality team.” You don’t field a championships caliber team by giving $50 million dollars to a 38-year-old with a career ERA of 3.99, a 121-90 record, and averaging 3.2 K’s per 9 innings.