A Wide Range of Suitors Proves J.A. Happ is the Least Risky Free Agent Starter

As the hot stove continues this winter, the starting pitching class has no number one aces, but there are still many impressive candidates to chose from. Clayton Kershaw. who re-signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers, would have led the group, and question marks even surrounded him about what he would have earned on the open market. Patrick Corbin and Dallas Keuchel are the headliners, while Nathan Eovaldi has seen his stock rise tremendously over the past few months.

Those pitchers have dominated the rumors, but J.A. Happ should not go unnoticed. Happ was acquired by the New York Yankees at the non-waiver trade deadline in exchange for infielder Brandon Drury and outfielder Billy McKinney. He was a strong trade candidate, however he never really was coveted as a 35-year-old rental. The Yankees ended up trading Drury who was going to be moved regardless, and McKinney who was a major-league ready outfielder part of the team’s logjam. The same could happen to Happ this offseason, although the number of suitors for him is a positive sign.

Reported teams that have expressed interest in Happ are the Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox, and Minnesota Twins.

The most intriguing aspect is despite his age, it’s not only the elite teams who want him on a short-term deal to be a middle of the rotation starter in the postseason. The Blue Jays have already had him twice, and they know his value as a consistent starter in the AL East. The Reds, Twins, and White Sox are expected to spend on staring pitching, so it’s no surprise that Happ is on their radar.

With risky starting pitchers available on the market, teams would be smart to take a look at the less risky veteran J.A. Happ. Click To Tweet

Happ is coming off an impressive season, posting a 17-6 record, with a 3.65 ERA leading to his first All-Star Game appearance. His ability to perform in a postseason race having an ERA under three with the Yankees should also raise his value. The one stat that could go against Happ was the career high 27 home runs he allowed in 2018. Happ, known for his downhill delivery inducing ground balls that makes him so successful, was not on full display.

In 2015, Happ signed early in the winter, at the time agreeing to a three-year-deal worth $36 million. The same can be the case this year for teams who are unsure about giving Corbin and Keuchel deals in the $100 million range. It’s likely that Happ will have a similar free agency that Dodgers’ Rich Hill experienced in 2016. Hill was also acquired in July, and there was mutual interest to agree to a new contract. With that said, money is always a factor as the Dodgers hoped to secure Hill on a two-year-deal rather than the three years that was eventually agreed upon. There is interest on both sides for Happ to remain in pinstripes, but the Yankees would prefer to keep the deal at two years like the Dodgers wanted to.

In 2013, the Yankees were in a similar dilemma when they were trying to sign Carlos Beltran. They decided to give Beltran the extra year to secure his services, and the Yankees who are in serious need of starting pitching might do the same to make sure Happ doesn’t walk.

The uncertainties around the top starters could also play into Happ’s hands. Corbin is expected to receive a five-year-deal, but with his history of Tommy John surgery, perhaps a team backs away from him. The White Sox are reportedly exploring the idea of signing Corbin, even though Happ could be a safer choice at a much lower dollar figure. Keuchel has regressed since his career year in 2015, and clubs might steer clear from a pitcher who might not return to that level of dominance. Eovaldi seemed to turn a corner with the Boston Red Sox, but a long-term deal with him could be risky as well. Charlie Morton is also a free agent, however there were reports he was contemplating retirement because of the condition his arm is in.

Baseball Essential writer Robbie Stratakos recently wrote that it might make more sense acquiring Zack Greinke via trade, rather than spend big money on Corbin and Keuchel. Like Happ, Greinke is in his mid 30s, without overpowering stuff, but can strike batters out, and still pitch at a high level. Greinke also has three years and $105 million remaining on his contract, and even if the D-Backs ate some of the money, it’s still much greater than what Happ should earn. Or the case could be made, clubs would rather have three years of 35-year-old Greinke over five years of 29-year-old Corbin.

While all the attention is not directed at Happ, he remains a viable option for clubs regardless of what their expectations are for 2019. There will be no mega deal coming his way, but for those teams uneasy about giving a big contract, Happ is that starter who will perform no matter where he ends up.

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