Yankees: Will J.A. Happ be a member of the starting rotation in 2020?


As the Yankees get set to enter a new year in 2020 they still have some roster decisions that need be addressed before next season begins. One of them is whether or not they’ll trade veteran starter J.A. Happ.

Earlier this month after the Yankees signed top free agent ace Gerrit Cole it seemed like a foregone conclusion that a trade of Happ would soon follow. Here we are over three weeks later and Happ is still a part of the New York roster but it’s still likely that before the offseason is all said and done with the Yanks will find a trade partner for the 37-year-old left-hander.

There are a couple of reasons why it still makes a lot of sense to trade Happ this offseason. The most obvious one is to clear up cap space and a large portion of the $17M owed to Happ in 2020 and potentially in 2021 as well. Happ has a vesting option for the same amount that he will qualify for if he pitches at least 165 innings or makes 27 starts in 2020. It’s doubtful the Yankees would allow Happ to reach either total if he remains with the club but other teams in need of starting pitching might.

Right now the Yankees projected payroll for next season is around $261M which would leave them well over the highest tax threshold of $248M. The Yanks are definitely going to have to pay the penalty for going over the second threshold, but Hal Steinbrenner has already said this offseason that he would prefer to stay under the $248M threshold.

Trading Happ would be the best way to somehow get under that number but it could be hard to find a team willing to take on his entire salary for next season. There are definitely teams out there interested in adding him but it’s going to be a lot easier for the Yanks to trade him if they eat some of the money still owed to him. That is unless they attach a desirable prospect with Happ in a package. Who that prospect would be is hard to say but it likely wouldn’t be one of their top tier guys.

Another reason why a Happ trade could be nearing is the fact that the Yanks still need to clear up a 40-man roster spot to officially bring back OF Brett Gardner. Gardy reportedly resigned with the Yanks the day after the Cole news broke at the Winter Meetings, but the Yanks have yet to announce the signing.

There’s a possibility they could end up designating someone for assignment to open up a spot like they did with Chance Adams to make room for Cole. Stephen Tarpley is the player who is likely in the most danger of suffering the same fate. Although I get the feeling the Yanks plan on clearing up the spot in a different way considering how long it’s taken for the news to become official.

Are the Yankees better of keeping Happ?

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I think we’d all be shocked if Happ isn’t dealt at some point in the new year but if the Yanks can’t find a trade that would help get them under the highest tax threshold could they end up keeping him?

Despite his struggles for the majority of last season Happ finished the regular season very strong and had a solid showing in October as well. Clearly, he isn’t worth $17M a season anymore but he still belongs in a big-league rotation and it wouldn’t be the worst thing if the Yankee entered next season with him as their fifth starter.

I’d rather see that spot go to the returning Jordan Montgomery but he’s coming off of Tommy John surgery so there’s no guarantee he’ll bounce back the way the Yankees hope he will. At least with Happ you know he’s going to take the ball every fifth day and give the team a decent chance to win. And with the Yankees high powered offense backing him and the baseballs not being juiced in 2020 like they were a season ago, Happ could have a nice rebound year.

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I wouldn’t be upset if the Yankees went that route and kept him but I still think they’ll trade him because of the luxury tax implications. What they could get in return remains to be seen, but as long as they can clear up more cap space I don’t think it really matters.