Yankees: J.A. Happ to play critical role in New York’s rotation

The Yankees will need J.A. Happ to return to form

Before the coronavirus pandemic began to shutdown America and the baseball world, J.A. Happ was one of the biggest stories of the New York Yankees‘ spring.

After a dreadful 2019 campaign, Happ came into camp with something to prove. The wily veteran looked like he returned to form when he took the mound in four games down in Tampa.

Happ pitched 13 innings with a 1.38 ERA with 16 strikeouts. Of course, spring training stats mean nothing once the season starts but it looked like an offseason full of work paid off for the 37-year-old.

It comes as no secret that Happ was a dud after signing a two-year, $34 million deal with New York following his impressive 2018 stint in pinstripes.

In 2018, Happ went 7-0 in 11 starts, with a 2.69 ERA earning the start in Game 1 of the 2018 ALDS. Although the postseason start didn’t go well (2.0 IP, 5 ER), it led to a hefty contract.

Before the ink dried on Happ’s new deal, his season was already off to a rocky start. Happ ended the year with a 4.91 ERA, a career-worst FIP (5.22), HR/9 (1.90) and home run to flyball ratio (18.3%), according to FanGraphs.

Although Happ wasn’t sharp for the vast majority of the 2019 campaign, the juiced balls of the 2018 season certainly had an exaggerated impact on his performance. Happ is a flyball pitcher, with 38.8% of batted balls ending up in the air, the 14th highest mark in all of baseball, per FanGraphs. It also didn’t help that Happ had to pitch in the hitter-friendly confines of Yankee Stadium.

Despite the subpar season, Happ remains a crucial arm in the Yankees rotation. With ace Gerrit Cole, Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton ready to roll, Happ will be the next arm in line.

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Yankees’ odd schedule creates need for J.A. Happ

New York will be relying on Happ to provide consistency in what will likely be an odd schedule in 2020. Plus, the Yankees will enter 2020 with question marks surrounding their fifth starter. Jordan Montgomery, set to embark on his first full season since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2018 and flame-thrower Jonathan Loaisiga are the two favorites to land the final spot in the rotation.

Like it or not, Happ will be in the rotation every fifth day. The Yankees are paying Happ far too much money and have too much on the line to hand the keys over to prospects like Deivi Garcia or Clarke Schmidt just yet.

The World Series is within reach and pushing aside a veteran like Happ with a solid resume, especially one with his pricetag is not going to happen.

For nearly 15 years, Happ has molded an impressive career and after a strong start in spring, the veteran looked like he reinvented himself for one more run at a title. It’s been over a decade since a young Happ stepped onto the mound in a World Series.

Yankee fans may remember a young Happ who had the unfortunate job of facing Hideki Matsui in the 2009 Fall Classic. Of course, Matsui doubled home a pair of runs in the series-clinching game.

Even if Happ does hit bumps in the road, his ability to eat innings throughout the season is well-documented. In five of his last six seasons, Happ has started in over 30 games. Availability will also be key with question marks surrounding the health of Paxton and the workload of Montgomery and Loaisiga.

Happ also has a big payday to play for. According to spotrac.com, if Happ starts 27 games or reaches 165 innings, his option for 2021 will vest and he will make another $17 million.

Now, how incentives and milestones in regards to contracts is still up in the air. Whether baseball will decide to adjust benchmarks for options like Happ’s is a possibility but there is also a chance contracts won’t be adjusted.

If there’s a chance Happ can reach a benchmark to land another massive payday, expect him to be striving for it, which is good news for the Yankees, at least for the sake of the 2020 campaign.

Next: Revisiting the Yankees-Rockies Trade for Mike Tauchman

With what New York hopes are talented arms waiting in the wings, Happ still has the keys and will be a critical piece for the Yankees this season.

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