Yankees: What must it feel like to be J.A. Happ these days

The Yankees have a poorly kept secret; they’d rather not have J.A. Happ and his $17 million for the 2020 season. Wonder what’s going through his mind…

Back when the Yankees were in a find ’em and sign ’em search for starting pitching, they engaged in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays in July 2018 that sent J.A. Happ to the New York Yankees for Brandon Drury and Billy McKinney.

What the Yankees purchased for relative nothing was a pitcher who had won forty games for the Blue Jays over three seasons, including a sparkling 2016 in which Happ went 20-4 with a depressed American League ERA of 3.18.

CC Sabathia, 2019 All-Star Game Honoree (Photo: Robert Sabo)
CC Sabathia, 2019 All-Star Game Honoree (Photo: Robert Sabo)

Happ was averaging thirty starts per season and 170 innings during his tenure with the Blue Jays, and as a 6’5″ lefty, he looked like the perfect fit for a Yankees rotation that included an iffy CC Sabathia.

For the remainder of 2018 and all of 2019, Happ went on to post a 19-8 record over 225 innings with a strikeout to walk ratio of 4:1.

Yankees: Oh Dear, What To Do Now

There was just one problem the Yankees didn’t see coming. And that was the possibility that his contract calling for $17 Million for the 2020 season would become a break the bank salary as a significant contributor to the Yankees demolishing the luxury tax threshold.

There’s also the matter of a 2021 option at the same amount that vests if Happ registers 165 innings or 27 starts.

Yankee: Jordan Montgomery Photo Credit: Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post
Yankee: Jordan Montgomery Photo Credit: Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

On the other side, the Yankees could and perhaps should have seen the need to bring along one of their many highly regarded pitching prospects into the fifth spot in the rotation that Happ was programmed to occupy in 2020.

So, while J.A. Happ reports to Spring Training in a few weeks knowing he’s in a battle with Jordan Montgomery, Deivi Garcia, Michael King, and anyone else who happens to have a hot preseason, one has to wonder – what is Happ thinking?

J.A. Happ and the Human Side Of Baseball

Happ knows he’s not wanted, or maybe that too severe, and we should say too costly. But here he is at the tender age of 37, stuck in limbo – though some would rightly call it purgatory.

J.A. Happ knows his career is ebbing, but he also knows because he’s proven that he can still get major league hitter out.

Miguel Andujar, New York Yankees Photo Credit: New York Post
Miguel Andujar, New York Yankees Photo Credit: New York Post

Reports and stories like this one from Pinstripe Alley point to Happ’s resurrection during the second half of the 2019 season as proof his value is underestimated.

But still, beauty remains in the eye of the beholder.

Despite the ongoing efforts by Brian Cashman to find a suitor for Happ, he remains destined to be one of those reporting to Tampa in search of a role on the team the Yankees will bring north to begin the regular season.

It doesn’t help either that the Yankees are known to be openly shopping Happ for the sole purpose of unloading his salary.

So what could happen and probably already has happened is that a prospective trade partner says, “Okay, we’ll take him, but we want Miguel Andujar in there as well.”

What happens then?

Yankees and Happ in Limbo

The Other Side Of Baseball

Brian Cashman has been through this before, and it’s likely he’ll find an open door, but not as soon as he’d like to or the Yankees need.

The $22 million the Yankees reportedly owe MLB already in the form of a luxury tax is just as real as the $17 million they agreed to pay J.A. Happ.

Still, there’s a story behind all of this containing a human element. A.J. Happ has nothing to do with a problem the Yankees brought on themselves.

Happ and his wife Morgan have lived the baseball life, and together they’ve hurdled the need to move five times over Happ’s fifteen years as a professional ballplayer.

They’ll do it again if they need to, but you have to wonder if Happ says to himself in a quiet moment – “What did I do to deserve this?”

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Author: stevecontursi

I am an amateur writer with a passion for baseball and all things Yankees and Mets.