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JA Happ wasn’t supposed to be on the Yankees this season. The team reportedly shopped him in the winter after a terrible 2019 campaign but never wound up trading him. As it turns out, holding onto him mostly paid off. He may have been disgruntled with how he was handled, but nonetheless, the lefty was a key figure in the rotation over the final month of the regular season. The narrative quickly changed come the ALDS, but all told, Happ was a net positive for the Yankees in 2020.
Vesting option saga
Before COVID-19 altered the season for good, Happ needed to make 27 starts or throw 165 innings in order to have his 2021 $17 million option picked up. Instead, as a result of a shortened season, those triggers were prorated to 10 starts and 61 1/3 innings. Or, so we thought. Happ was excluded from that rule and actually had to either have his vesting option renegotiated or arbitrated. We’re still awaiting word on a solution.
The Yankees wound up skipping Happ’s turn in the rotation a couple of times in August. After his second start of the season on August 5th, after which he had a 10.29 ERA in 7 innings, the Yankees didn’t bring the veteran back to the mound until August 16th. But even after pitching well that day (one out short of six innings pitched, one run allowed), the Yankees passed over him once more. He didn’t start again until August 29th against the Mets. Happ was none too pleased:
The Yankees didn’t skip Happ again for the rest of the season. The big reason? Happ was great over the final month of the year, which I’ll touch upon shortly. But even if he struggled, the Yankees may not have overlooked him anyway because of James Paxton’s absence. In the end, Happ tallied 9 starts and 49 1/3 innings this year, short of the prorated figures we thought he’d have to hit initially.
Now, I can’t say I’m sympathetic to Happ’s gripes earlier in the year. It’s one thing if he pitched well out of the gate, but he didn’t. Those two rough starts plus a dreadful 2019 made skipping him a no brainer. Brian Cashman basically said as much. Had he pitched well from the get go, it might have been a different story.