Yankees: Is JA Happ About to Get the Jacoby Ellsbury Treatment?

JA Happ’s first start of the season didn’t go well against the Baltimore Orioles.

The New York Yankees didn’t trot JA Happ out to the mound until Thursday night — which was a full week into the season — due to everything getting pushed back after the series against the Phillies was postponed because of the Marlins COVID-19 outbreak.

Happ seemingly had a layup — a 2020 season debut against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards, where the Yankees absolutely rake.

Well, the left-hander was given a 5-0 cushion after a monster first inning capped by a Luke Voit grand slam, but he couldn’t take full advantage. He surrendered a pair of two-run homers and ended up going just four innings, allowing four runs on four hits and two walks.

We’re not going to freak out about a not-great start against a bad team in his first outing after a four-month layoff, but we cannot forget about Happ’s $17 million option for 2021 that vests under much different circumstances.

It was previously suggested that he would have needed to start 10 games or log a total of 61.1 innings to trigger the option under a 60-game season, but it’s since been reported that the two sides will either work out new terms or an independent arbiter will determine the matter.

So, let’s just say he needs 10 starts or 61.1 innings pitched to earn that fat paycheck for ’21 … do the Yankees … actively work to not make that happen? We saw how they made Jacoby Ellsbury disappear and then do their best to not pay him after his deal turned out to be a train wreck (and they wanted to make room for other guys).

In this case, it could just be as easy as making Happ an infrequent reliever if he can’t be a reliable starter.

He’s only made more than four relief appearances in his career once, but given the depth the Yankees have and the fans yearning to see more of Clarke Schmidt and Jordan Montgomery, demoting Happ would almost be a welcomed move if he can’t pull his weight.

Fans are critical about the contract the team gave the left-hander, but what are you supposed to do when you acquire a guy like that at the trade deadline and he goes 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA in 11 starts? It’s not like it was a blockbuster deal, either. The only downside is that it likely kept the team from signing Patrick Corbin. Ooof.

The Yankees are already doing a version of this ugly dance with Clint Frazier, who is clearly a major leaguer but continues to find himself in with the Triple-A team. It’s doubtful they’ll beat around the bush when it comes to an underperforming player potentially costing them $17 million next season.