J.A. Happ Rumors

Mariners, Blue Jays Swap Michael Saunders, J.A. Happ

The Mariners have officially acquired lefty J.A. Happ from the Blue Jays in exchange for outfielder Michael Saunders, as Jayson Stark of ESPN.com first reported on Twitter. Both teams have been aggressive in adding talent early in the offseason, and this move seems to set up additional action for each.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Houston Astros

In Happ, 32, Seattle has added a left-handed starter who just threw 158 innings of 4.22 ERA ball, striking out 7.6 and walking 2.9 batters per nine. That makes him a reasonably useful pitcher, though he’ll play for $6.7MM this year before hitting free agency. But Happ has never returned to the production he flashed back in 2009, when he notched a 2.93 ERA over 166 frames (while carrying a less-encouraging 4.33 FIP).

Saunders, meanwhile, is a 28-year-old outfielder who brings plenty of talent with him to Toronto and fills a need for the Jays. He has had three straight above-average offensive seasons, including a .273/.341/.450 slash over 263 plate appearances in an injury-limited 2014 campaign. Though advanced metrics have not always been in love with his defensive work, particularly in center, he posted solid numbers last year and is generally viewed as a good fielder. Projected to earn $2.9MM in arbitration, Saunders comes with an additional season of non-guaranteed control as well.

Though the Jays are left without a sturdy rotation option, the team does have young arms to fill in with upside to spare. And Saunders makes an excellent fit for a club that has an opening in the corner outfield and is relying on youngsters in center. Even better, the nearly $3MM in cost savings will open up more flexibility as the club looks to build out its pen and address other areas of need.

The move certainly makes sense of last night’s non-tender decisions. With Saunders in the fold, the Jays seem unlikely to continue pursuing Melky Cabrera. Indeed, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that to be the case on Twitter. The club’s extra payroll space will also create opportunities to add back to the team’s big league rotation.

It is somewhat more difficult to understand the logic from the Mariners’ perspective. Though Saunders and the team squabbled earlier in the offseason, and he was part of a generally lefty-heavy lineup, the fact remains that he is a valuable young contributor. While Happ will add some stability to the rotation, that was not exactly a pressing area of need, and one cannot help but wonder whether a slightly more substantial return might have been possible.

Of course, if another move for an outfielder is in the works, then the moving pieces could begin to line up. And GM Jack Zduriencik gave the impression to reporters, including Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times (Twitter link) that he intends to do just that.


AL East Notes: Robertson, Headley, Happ, Tomas

In a text message to George A. King III of the New York Post, David Robertson says things are “quiet on the front” in terms of a multiyear contract with the Yankees or receiving a qualifying offer from the team.  The Yankees are expected to extend the QO to Robertson and the closer is very likely to reject it given the interest in his services.  At least six clubs are interested in Robertson this winter, a league source tells Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News.

Here’s more from around the AL East…

  • The Yankees have begun talks with Chase Headley, CBSSports.com’ Jon Heyman reports.  New York has exclusive negotiating rights with Headley until 11pm CT tonight, though it would be quite surprising to see a deal reached before Headley has had a chance to test the thin free agent market.
  • Blue Jays southpaw J.A. Happ is “generating lots of interest” in trades, Sportsnet.ca’s Shi Davidi reports.  Happ enjoyed a solid 2014 season and had his $6.7MM option for 2015 exercised by the Jays on Friday.  With the newly-acquired Marco Estrada now in the rotation mix, Happ could be expendable.
  • Earlier today, Sportsnet.ca’s Jeff Blair reported that the Blue Jays have had internal discussions about Russell Martin.  In that same item, Blair notes that Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos might look to act quickly this offseason rather than wait for deals to develop.  The latter strategy left the Jays largely empty-handed last winter.  Toronto has already dealt Adam Lind to Milwaukee, a trade that Blair feels doesn’t make much sense for the Jays unless a follow-up move is forthcoming.
  • The Orioles don’t seem to have interest in trading or non-tendering Chris Davis, MASNsports.com’s Steve Melewski reports, though the first baseman will have much to atone for in Baltimore following his disappointing 2014 season.
  • Though the Orioles currently have six legitimate rotation candidates on the roster, MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko expects the club to add pitching depth by signing at least one veteran to a minor league deal.
  • Jay Alou, Yasmany Tomas‘ agent, tweeted that his client worked out at the Red Sox academy in the Dominican Republic over the weekend.  While the Sox have had some interest in Tomas in the past, WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford hears that the workout was arranged “partly out of convenience, with Tomas needing a place in the area to continue his preparation.”  It would be a surprise to see Boston sign Tomas given that the Sox already have an outfield surplus.
  • The Red Sox are in need of a top left-hander for the bullpen, Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald writes.  Bringing back Andrew Miller would be the best option, though he’ll be heavily courted by several teams and the Sox may not be able to win a bidding war.
  • Silverman thinks the Red Sox and Burke Badenhop could quickly come to terms on a new contract.  The righty reliever posted a 2.29 ERA in 70 2/3 IP with Boston in 2014.

Blue Jays To Exercise J.A. Happ’s Option

The Blue Jays will exercise their team option on lefty starter J.A. Happ, paying $6.7MM rather than a $200K buyout, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman tweets. Prior to the 2013 season, the Jays signed Happ to a one-year, $5.4MM extension for 2014 that included the option they’re exercising now. He can become a free agent after the coming season.

Happ pitched 158 innings for the Jays in 2014, with a 4.22 ERA, 7.6 K/9 and a 2.9 BB/9 that marked a significant improvement over his 2013 mark of 4.4. Happ also increased his average fastball velocity from 91.1 MPH to a career-high 92.7, perhaps an indication that he can continue to be helpful. He looks likely to be in the Jays’ rotation again in 2015.

 



Anthopoulos On Payroll, Cabrera, Pitching, Gibbons

Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos met with the media, including Sportsnet.ca’s Ben Nicholson-Smith and Shi Davidi (Twitter links) and the National Post’s John Lott, for 50 minutes today before Toronto’s season finale against Baltimore. Here are the highlights:

  • Anthopoulos declined to put a figure on the team’s 2015 payroll, but expects to have the financial flexibility to make moves and has “some ideas on trades and free agents.”
  • The Blue Jays will make a competitive offer to Melky Cabrera, but Anthopoulos reiterated the club’s policy of limiting contracts to five years “is still firmly in place. That’s not going to change.” 
  • On the Jays’ starting rotation, I wouldn’t feel good going into the season with five,Anthopoulos said. “Philosophically speaking, you want to hoard as much as you can, keep as much depth as you can.” To that end, Anthopoulos hinted J.A. Happ‘s $6.7MM option will be exercised and Aaron Sanchez (“frontline starter potential“) will be stretched out in Spring Training. He will, however, at least consider trade offers for established arms.
  • The Blue Jays will eschew big-name relievers and focus on set-up arms in an effort to rebuild their bullpen. Sanchez may pitch in relief sometime during the course of 2015, but only to manage his innings.
  • Yes,” was Anthopoulos’ reply when asked would he hire John Gibbons if he had a managerial opening next season.
  • Brett Lawrie is slated to play third base next year, but could be moved to second if an impact third baseman is acquired. As for evaluating the other position players, Anthopoulos will place a premium on durability.
  • Nicholson-Smith opines bench upgrades will most likely be accomplished through trades rather than free agency.

Quick Hits: Astros, Papelbon, Happ, Betancourt

As we wind up one of the busiest weeks in the history of baseball transactions, here are a few more notes as we head into the weekend…

  • Astros GM Jeff Luhnow is happy to have acquired Dexter Fowler and Scott Feldman before the Winter Meetings, but Luhnow tells reporters (including Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle) that his club has more on its to-do list.  “To have them both done before the Winter Meetings is a bonus," Luhnow said.  "So now that we can focus on the bullpen and focus on potentially another position player somewhere….We may not be done with starting pitching either.  We’re still actively talking to some other folks.”
  • With the Phillies reportedly shopping closer Jonathan Papelbon, Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News feels the team will have a tough time given Papelbon's large salary, signs of decline and his possible attitude issues.
  • J.A. Happ could be a trade chip for the Blue Jays if the team needed to free up some payroll space, Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith writes.  Happ is set to earn $5.2MM in 2014 with a $6.7MM team option for 2015.  The southpaw was limited to 18 starts in 2013 due to head injuries suffered when he was hit in the head with a line drive, as well as a knee injury also stemming from the incident.
  • Also from Nicholson-Smith, nothing is imminent with Yuniesky Betancourt, though a number of teams are still interested in the veteran as infield depth.  The Marlins were linked to Betancourt last month.
  • Erisbel Barbaro Arruebarruena has a good glove at shortstop, is lacking at the plate and is overall not going to provide the impact of recent Cuban signings, a scout tells MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo.  "This isn’t like watching Aroldis Chapman or Yoenis Cespedes. You’re not going to hear from 15 teams. You’ll hear from teams that are hurting a little bit at shortstop," the scout said.  Arruebarruena will showcase his skills for teams this weekend, and the Mets have been identified as one of the attending clubs.

AL Notes: Yankees, Happ, Indians

The Yankees made some last minute moves this week when they traded for Vernon Wells and picked up the recently-released Lyle Overbay.  Both Wells and Overbay have made the club along with Ben Francisco and Brennan Boesch, leaving Juan Rivera as the odd man out.  Tbe first baseman/outfielder was cut loose, though he did cash in on a $100K retention bonus for staying on the roster beyond Tuesday's Article XX(B) deadline.  Here's more from the Junior Circuit..

  • It's time for the Yankees to start looking for a replacement for Derek Jeter, Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com writes. Eduardo Nunez, who is manning shortstop in Jeter's absence, is not a good solution for the long haul, Matthews argues, and Jeter's age and injury status are both worrisome. Matthews also suggests that the Yankees should have acquired Jose Reyes or Yunel Escobar in the offseason.
  • Having gone in just days from being ticketed for Triple-A to being in the big-league rotation with a new contract extension, Blue Jays pitcher J.A. Happ is thrilled with his recent streak of good fortune, reports MLB.com's Gregor Chisholm. "It certainly has been a great few days," says Happ. "There was a long time before that where it wasn't quite as easy, but this kind of makes it all worth it."
  • After his team's signings of Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, GM Chris Antonetti hopes the Indians will snag a playoff spot, Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. The organization felt it needed a splashy offseason to maintain the attention of its fanbase, Pluto writes. "There is risk whenever you make substantial investment," says Antonetti. "But for us, there was even more risk if we didn't."

East Notes: Happ, Romero, Mets, Nationals

The Yankees will finish in last place, predicts Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports.  Predicting the AL East is no easy task, that's for sure.  The latest from baseball's eastern division teams:

  • The Yankees need another Aaron Small-type hidden gem this year, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post.  The team is facing some derision for recent veteran pickups like Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay, but Sherman feels the front office has earned the benefit of the doubt given its success with these types of additions.
  • The Blue Jays and starter J.A. Happ first discussed an extension in the offseason when they were doing his arbitration case, GM Alex Anthopoulos told Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star.  The agreement was reached before Happ found out he'd made the Opening Day rotation, said the pitcher.  The Jays guaranteed Happ's final arbitration year in 2014 and also snagged a club option for '15.
  • Happ beat out Ricky Romero for the Jays' fifth starter job, even though Romero is owed $7.5MM this year.  Romero, who was optioned to High-A, told Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca, "I don’t belong here to be honest with you. This is not for me."
  • The Mets are not yet convinced Ruben Tejada is their shortstop of the future, writes Andy Martino of the New York Daily News.  Gavin Cecchini is Baseball America's top-rated shortstop in the Mets' farm system, but he was drafted out of high school last summer.
  • The Nationals are a scouting-first organization, but GM Mike Rizzo is open-minded to suggestions from their two top analytics people, Adam Cromie and Samuel Mondry-Cohen, writes Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post.  The team has its own formula to evaluate defense and its own version of wins above replacement.

Blue Jays Extend J.A. Happ

The Blue Jays have agreed to extend recently-named fifth starter J.A. Happ, reports Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com on Twitter. Happ will receive $5.2MM for 2014, his final arbitration-eligible year, in addition to the $3.7MM he was already owed for this season. Chisholm also tweets that the Jays obtained an option for the 2015 season at $6.7MM.

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It has been a quick change of events for Happ, a client of Jay Fee Sports Group. Not long ago, he was reportedly the "odd man out" and unhappy with the prospect of a bullpen role or trip to the minors. Now, with Toronto's decision to keep Ricky Romero off of the Opening Day roster, Happ finds himself with both a rotation spot and a new deal.

Happ, a 30-year-old lefty, joined Toronto last season in a mid-season trade with the Astros. He pitched to a 4.79 ERA over 144 2/3 innings split between Toronto and Houston last year, along with 9.0 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9. For his career, Happ has registered a 4.19 ERA and averaged 7.6 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9.

Interestingly, MLBTR's Extension Tracker reveals no recent starters who agreed to an extension with the structure of Happ's deal. Happ, who has over four years of MLB service time, gave up control over his first season of free agent eligibility in exchange for guaranteed money in his final year of arbitration. 

In sum and substance, in return for locking in $5.2MM in new money for 2014, Happ has given up a chance at a larger payday down the line. This offseason, comparable starters like Jeremy Guthrie (three years, $25MM) and Joe Blanton (two years, $15MM) managed to land multi-year deals with better annual value than Happ would be looking at if Toronto exercises his option. While Guthrie and Blanton have longer track records of logging 190+ inning seasons, Happ is younger than both and appears to have an opportunity to showcase himself over the next two seasons.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


AL Notes: Royals, Happ, Matsuzaka, Longoria

The Royals will approach their upcoming roster decisions with the goal of preserving "inventory," Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star writes. That means keeping as many players in the system as possible, which in turn means that players who are out of options will have a better chance of making the team, so the Royals don't risk losing them. The following players are out of options: Bruce Chen, Jarrod Dyson, Jeremy Guthrie, J.C. Gutierrez, Brett Hayes, Luke Hochevar, Elliot Johnson, George Kottaras, Luis Mendoza and Felipe Paulino. Hayes, Kottaras and Adam Moore are battling to back up Salvador Perez at catcher. Since Moore has an option, he will likely return to the minor leagues, and the Royals will choose between Hayes and Kottaras, keeping one while potentially trading or losing the other. The many teams currently on the lookout for catching help will presumably be watching the Royals' situation closely. Here are more notes from the American League.

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2013/03/16/4125791/inventory-is-key-element-for-royals.html#storylink=cpy

AL East Notes: Yankees, Happ, Thole

The Red Sox and Yankees are among the teams that will take a look at recently released outfielder Brennan Boesch. The left-handed hitter could provide power in a complementary role for a club like Boston or New York. Here are the latest AL East notes…

  • Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera are beloved members of the Yankees organization but, more importantly, they're playing significant roles on the 2013 team, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes. “We have always felt the same responsibility, that never changes,” Jeter said.
  • Though J.A. Happ would draw some trade interest, the Blue Jays prefer to keep him in the organization, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News notes. The 30-year-old left-hander adds more value as injury insurance than he would bring in a trade. The Blue Jays will keep him, even though that could mean stashing him at Triple-A for a while.
  • The Blue Jays expect catcher Josh Thole to contribute over the next few years, according to Martino. Even so, Thole could start the season at Triple-A Buffalo with Henry Blanco catching at the MLB level.