After much speculation during last week’s Winter Meetings, the Yankees made it official on Monday morning when they announced the signing of left-handed starter J.A. Happ to a two-year contract through the 2020 season with a vesting option for 2021.
Happ was acquired by the Yankees from Toronto on July 26, 2018, in exchange for INF Brandon Drury and OF Billy McKinney.
The 36-year old went 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA (63.2IP, 51H, 20R/19ER, 16BB, 63K, 10HR) in 11 starts. He won his first five starts with the club, becoming the first pitcher to start and win each of his first five appearances since Bob Turley in 1955. Happ’s current 12-start regular season unbeaten streak is tied for the third-longest active streak in the Majors.
The one blemish on his time with the Yankees came in Game 1 of the Division Series at Fenway Park against the Red Sox when he gave up 5 runs on 4 hits in just 2 innings.
The Red Sox held on for a 5-4 win in that game, and won the series in four games on their way to winning the world championship.
Happ never pitched again in the Division Series, which was mystifying considering he did well against Boston in his career and, in retrospect, probably should have gotten the call for Game 4 at Yankee Stadium instead of CC Sabathia.
The Yankees said they would address their starting rotation issues this offseason, and up to now, they have re-signed Happ and Sabathia, and also acquired James Paxton from the Seattle Mariners.
That means their rotation in 2019 will not be all that different, as Paxton is the only new face added to a rotation that includes Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino, Happ, and Sabathia. If anyone of them gets hurt, they will once again be relying on less-than-reliable Luis Cessa, Domingo German, and Jonathan Loaisiga.
The Happ signing is important, but his playoff performance cannot be dismissed – it wasn’t for Randy Johnson, who won 32 games in two seasons in pinstripes (2005 and 2006) but is largely remembered for not doing well in the postseason.
They need to sign at least one more arm, possibly two, to ensure they don’t have the same issues in rotation depth next season.
In 2018, Happ combined to go 17-6 with a 3.65 ERA (177.2IP, 150H, 81R/72ER, 51BB, 193K, 27HR) in 31 starts with the Blue Jays and Yankees. The native of Spring Valley, Ill. tied for the fourth-most wins in the American League (seventh in the Majors) and was named an AL All-Star, his first career All-Star selection. He set career highs in strikeouts, K/9.0IP ratio (9.78) and strikeout rate (26.3 percent).
Happ has gone 109-82 with a 3.90 ERA (1530.2IP, 1,448H, 712R/663ER, 556BB, 1,357K, 189HR) in 284 games (259 starts) over 12 seasons with the Phillies (2007-10), Astros (2010-12), Blue Jays (2012-14, ‘16-18), Mariners (2015), Pirates (2015) and Yankees (2018). He is one of nine pitchers to earn at least 10 wins in each of the last five seasons (since 2014).
Since the start of the 2016 season, Happ is 18-8 with a 2.84 ERA (231.2IP, 73ER) in 40 starts facing AL East foes. Over that span, his 18 wins are tied for fifth-most, while his ERA is third-lowest among starters with at least 100.0IP vs. the AL East. In 21 career games (20 starts) against the Red Sox, Happ is 8-4 with a 2.98 ERA (117.2IP, 39ER).
Happ becomes the first free agent starting pitcher signed to a multi-year contract by the Yankees since A.J. Burnett and CC Sabathia both signed on December 18, 2008 (Masahiro Tanaka was signed in 2014 via the Japanese posting system).
Originally drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the third round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, Happ played three years collegiately at Northwestern (Ill.) University.
To make room on the 40-man roster, the Yankees have designated RHP Parker Bridwell for assignment. Bridwell was acquired from the Angels in late November.