When the Yankees decided to bring back JA Happ about a year ago, the move made sense. He’d just pitched well for them in a half season after a trade (disaster against the Red Sox in the ALDS notwithstanding) and was lined up to be a back end guy with CC Sabathia. Then the 2019 season happened.
Everyone got hurt for the Yankees–not quite an exaggeration–and that pressed Happ (and Sabathia) into greater service, if you will. Rather than being a fourth or fifth starter, Happ had to act like a second or third starter and it didn’t go well. He ended 2019 with an ERA of 4.91 and a FIP of 5.22 (34 homers!); those aren’t good any way you slice it.
Now, a year and a bad season later, the Yankees are looking to move on from Happ via trade. Such a move would get a not-so-great pitcher off the team and clear money, which could help come trade deadline time. But, like there was for Sonny Gray last year, I think there’s a case to be made for keeping Happ on the team.
For one, there really is no such thing as too much depth. As I’ve written before, the Yankees learned that the hard way last year. Despite signing Gerrit Cole, James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka are still in the Yankee rotation and they’re not exactly shining examples of health. That’s not to mention that Luis Severino is coming off a completely lost year in terms of health. Beyond Happ, there’s some depth, but lots of questions–again about health, guys like Jonathan Loaisiga and Jordan Montgomery. JA Happ-enning to be around could help the Yankees soak up innings in the event of an injury.
If the playoffs are any indication about the way 2020 will go, the ball itself might change into something more normal. If that’s the case, as Bobby has argued Online at times, then maybe Happ isn’t so bad. It may not be totally wise to think in those terms–maybe the ball won’t change–but we can’t ignore it, either.
Lastly, I think there’s a way to distribute Happ to limit potential damage to him. It would hardly be innovative anymore, given how many teams do it, but the Yankees could pair Happ with an opener, making him the second/’bulk’ guy out of the bullpen. If I had my way with this, they’d pair him with Loaisiga for this experiment. The benefits of this set up would be threefold. First, it would limit Happ’s exposure to the tops of opponents’ lineups. Second, it would give Loaisiga a set schedule while still allowing him to get more innings than he would as a one-inning reliever. While Loaisiga’s future probably lies as a reliever, pitching him as a more traditional one-inning reliever could waste his potential given his talent/stuff and expose him to more injury risk–back-to-back games, an inconsistent schedule, etc. Third, a combination of Loaisiga and Happ could throw teams off, considering how different their styles are. By the time they adjust to Loaisiga’s power stuff, Happ will be in the game. By the time they adjust to Happ’s stuff, the Yankees can deploy their power relievers.
May I be painting too rosy a picture here? Sure. Happ is an older pitcher with declining stuff. Even in new roles, those guys don’t always do well. Not everyone can by Mike Mussina or CC Sabathia or Andy Pettitte and learn how to pitch on diminished stuff. Most likely, Happ is traded and the Yankees are better for it. However, if they decide to keep him, that could be justified and they could use him in a creative way.