Starter J.A. Happ agreed to a two-year, $34 million contract with the New York Yankees with the option for a third year, a source familiar with the deal told Yahoo Sports, providing left-handed rotation depth to a team starved for it and rewarding the late-career renaissance of Happ, one of the game’s most consistent starters.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post first reported the contract details.
The 36-year-old Happ’s odd career trajectory – he throws as hard now as he ever has – resulted in a career-high strikeout rate last season and was showcased during 11 dynamic starts with the Yankees after they acquired him from the Toronto Blue Jays in a trade-deadline deal. The end-of-the-year run capped Happ’s fourth consecutive season with a sub-4.00 ERA.
Only seven other pitchers have thrown as many innings as Happ with ERAs under four the last four years: Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, Clayton Kershaw, Jacob deGrom, Carlos Carrasco and Jake Arrieta. Five have won Cy Young Awards, and the two who haven’t, Sale and Carrasco, are considered among the game’s best pitchers.
While Happ isn’t typically regarded a peer to such pitchers, his reliability has proven itself over the course of his 12-year career, which has seen him bounce from Philadelphia to Houston to Toronto to Seattle to Pittsburgh to Toronto and ultimately to New York. In his starts with the Yankees, Happ posted a 2.69 ERA and struck out barely less than a batter an inning. For the entire 2018 season, he threw 177 2/3 innings, punched out 193, walked 51 and had a 3.65 ERA.
Still, a multiyear deal for a player 35 or older – even pitchers – is rarer than ever. The New York Mets gave left-hander Jason Vargas the winter of 2017’s only one, and it wound up a disaster. While others have proven more successful – Rich Hill with the Los Angeles Dodgers has been solid and John Lackey won a World Series with the Chicago Cubs – longer-term commitments have been frowned upon by teams.
The growth of Happ’s fastball velocity didn’t hurt the perception of the Yankees that he was durable and aging well enough to warrant a two-year deal. While he lived in the high 80s and low 90s early in his career, Happ’s fastball today sits around 92 mph, and he relies on it heavily, throwing it nearly three of every four pitches.
Happ didn’t join a major league rotation until he was 26 years old, and through his age-31 season, he wasn’t seen as much more than a No. 5-type starter. After a strong second half with Pittsburgh following a deadline acquisition in 2015, the Blue Jays gave Happ a three-year, $36 million deal. Rival executives cried overpay. It was anything but for Toronto, which saw Happ go 20-4 with a 3.18 ERA in 2016 and make his first All-Star Game in 2018.
With the Yankees, he’ll try to continue that trend of turning back the clock – and play a role in winning his first World Series, too.
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