It looks like J.A. Happ will be more than a rental for the Yankees after all.
After being acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays at the non-waiver trade deadline this past season, Happ has now re-signed with the Yankees. The contract is for 2 years at a total of $34 million, however, it can turn into 3 years at $51 million if he reaches 165 innings pitched or 27 games started in the 2020 season.
Originally, I expected Happ to command somewhere between $12-15 million per season, so I was a bit surprised to see him get $17 million. However, based on the other available free agents starting to sign elsewhere, it only made sense that he would be able to get a few extra million from a somewhat desperate Yankees team. But the fact that the Yankees were able to get him to agree to a third-year vesting option as opposed to guaranteeing him a third year is a big win.
Happ is an important addition to the Yankees after they missed out on prized free agent Patrick Corbin. Even though we are four or so months from the start of the season, the Yankees' starting rotation is already at a much better place than it was on Opening Day this past year. The Yankees began the 2018 season with a rotation consisting of Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Sonny Gray, CC Sabathia, and Jordan Montgomery. As it currently stands, they will enter the 2019 campaign with a rotation of Luis Severino, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ, and CC Sabathia. However, Yankees general manager, Brian Cashman, will continue to look for another top of the line starter to fortify this rotation before the season starts.
Before I get into exactly what Happ brings to the table for New York, let's do a little blind stats comparison.
(These are total stats from the past three seasons.)
Pitcher A: 47-21, 3.44 ERA, 518 IP, 498 K, 1.197 WHIP, 126 ERA+
Pitcher B: 30-33, 4.03 ERA, 545 1/3 IP, 555 K, 1.324 WHIP, 112 ERA+
Player A is J.A. Happ.
Player B is Patrick Corbin, who just signed a 6 year/$140 million contract with the Washington Nationals.
Now, the main caveat here is that Corbin is 7 years younger than Happ. Regardless of age, they have been putting up a similar amount of production over the past few years. The Yankees missed out on Corbin because they weren't willing to give him six years, so they end up signing Happ for three or four years less, at roughly $6 million less per year. Also, nobody is sure if Corbin is going to replicate his 2018 season going forward or if it was a flash in a pan. At least with Happ, the Yankees have a fairly good idea of what they're going to be getting from him every fifth day. It's also worth noting that Happ produced those numbers while playing in the AL East, arguably the toughest division in the majors to pitch in.
In terms of what Happ brings to the Yankees, the main thing is consistency. Happ doesn't have stuff that will blow you away, his fastball only averages around 93 mph but he knows how to approach hitters and actually makes hitters whiff at a decent rate, despite not having overpowering stuff. Another thing he brings is familiarity; he's only started 12 games for the Yankees but he pitched incredibly well, aside from a disastrous start against the Red Sox in the ALDS. That start aside, he was 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 63 2/3 innings. He's also 8-1 with a 3.39 ERA in 15 career starts at Yankee Stadium, which is always a plus. However, most importantly, he has had success against the Boston Red Sox, aside from the aforementioned start this past postseason. He has an 8-4 all-time record and 2.98 ERA against the Yankees' biggest rival while posting a 3.27 career ERA in Fenway Park.
Looking forward, this move doesn't stop the Yankees from going out and acquiring another starter, but it does make the need for another starter a bit less dire. The Yankees have been rumoured to be interested in Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Noah Syndergaard, but none of those seem likely at this point. If the Yankees are going to acquire another ace, I think it's more likely to happen during the season when another team realizes that they aren't contenders and are willing to sell off some assets. I hope I'm wrong because this rotation still needs another high-level starter since you can't depend on CC Sabathia staying healthy the whole year. I guess we'll just have to wait and see if Brian Cashman is willing to make another splash.
This move doesn't guarantee the team a World Series, but it does improve a team that is coming off a 100-win season.