There has been no shortage of offseason trade speculation centering on Yankees left-hander J.A. Happ, especially in the wake of the team’s blockbuster Gerrit Cole signing. If we’re to believe general manager Brian Cashman, though, Happ isn’t going anywhere. Cashman told Meredith Marakovits of the YES Network (video link) that Happ will open 2020 as the Yankees’ fifth starter behind Cole, Luis Severino, James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka.
Whether you want to take Cashman’s statement at face value is up to you, but it does appear Happ would be a challenge to trade. The normally solid Happ is coming off a subpar season, set to enter his age-37 campaign, owed a significant salary, and has an unappealing vesting option baked into his contract.
Happ, who pitched to a 4.91 ERA/5.22 FIP with 7.81 K/9 (down from 9.78 the prior year) in 2019, will earn $17MM this season. Worsening matters, he’ll make another $17MM in 2021 if he racks up 165 innings or 27 starts this year – two figures he has typically approached or surpassed over the past several campaigns.
Getting Happ’s money (or at least some of it) off the books would help the Yankees from a luxury-tax standpoint, as they’re currently projected for a whopping $261MM-plus total. That said, there’s a case it would benefit them to keep Happ around and hope for a bounce-back showing.
Happ, despite an overall disappointing year, did end last season on a high note with a strong September. He’s also the most logical candidate to eat innings from the back of a Yankees rotation that will go awhile without righty Domingo German, whom MLB handed a suspension for domestic violence that will cost him the first 63 games of 2020. Meanwhile, southpaw Jordan Montgomery – the Yankees’ next most experienced starter – barely pitched over the previous two years after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Beyond German and Montgomery, New York’s looking at mostly unproven 40-man options, albeit some intriguing ones including Deivi Garcia, Jonathan Loaisiga, Albert Abreu and Mike King, as well as minor league signing Nick Tropeano. One or more of them could factor into the Yankees’ starting staff during the season, but for now, it appears they’ll take a backseat to Happ.