Toronto Blue Jays: Is J.A. Happ Worth a Second Look?


Toronto Blue Jays: Is J.A. Happ Worth a Second Look?

[Writer’s note: in my defence, I wrote this before the Troy Tulowitzki trade. It definitely shocked me and challenges some of what I say about Anthopoulos below.]

A quick glance at Alex Anthopoulos’ non-waiver trade deadline record will tell you one thing: don’t expect the 38-year old general manager to land a big name.

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While the New York Yankees were busy chasing third baseman Chase Headley last season, the Toronto Blue Jays were content to settle for ‎utility player Danny Valencia. That says a lot.

It’s for this reason that I didn’t expect the Jays to land Johnny Cueto, and I ‎don’t think they’re serious contenders in the James Shields or Cole Hamels sweepstakes. Even someone like Jeff Samardzija – a respectable, not spectacular, upgrade option for the struggling rotation – is likely beyond the Jays’ reach.

When Anthopoulos makes a major move, it’s under the radar and during the off-season. That’s when he made his franchise-altering blockbuster trade with the Miami Marlins in 2012 and that’s how he landed Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson this past off-season. The man simply prefers to work in an environment where he can control things and operate without the distraction of competing offers. (This is also the environment where he works best.)

Jul 25, 2015; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners pitcher J.A. Happ (33) kicks the mound after throwing a bases-loaded walk against the Toronto Blue Jays during the second inning at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

If Anthopoulos decides to trade for a pitcher, he’ll likely target someone who is affordable and who can help improve the team around the edges. He won’t waste future assets on a top-line rental player à la Cueto and the Kansas City Royals – that’s not how he operates. Anthopoulos will also likely approach any potential trades balancing the needs of the present with those of the future.

All of this leads me to J.A. Happ, who may or may not be on the Jays’ radar, but if you look past his recent history in Toronto, he has all the makings of a classic Anthopoulos trade. (If fact, Anthopoulos has already pulled this trade once.) Happ isn’t flashy or expensive and there’s no long-term commitment attached to him since he can test free agency at the end of the season. That’s what really matters for a team operating within “payroll parameters”: flexibility.

Happ has put together a decent season for the lowly Seattle Mariners, going 4-5 across 19 starts. He boasts an ERA of 4.31, a WHIP of 1.37 and an opposing batter’s average of .273. Those aren’t great numbers, but they’d be serviceable and affordable numbers for the Jays.

While Happ is far from “Ace” material, his experience as a veteran carries some value as well. The Jays may need to find a replacement for R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle this off-season while keeping room for ‎Drew Hutchison, Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Norris and Marco Estrada to battle it out for spots in the starting rotation. Happ could easily fulfill this role if the Jays re-sign him on the cheap, serving as a short-term bridge between the Dickey-Buehrle era and the future.

Sep 12, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher J.A. Happ (48) throws against the Tampa Bay Rays in the first inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Turning to Happ’s time in Toronto, it shouldn’t be forgotten that he was one of the team’s more reliable arms down the stretch last season. As Buehrle lost steam and Dickey was mired in inconsistency (what’s new?), Happ was there to pick up some of the slack. In other words, he can help the team win as evidenced by his 11-11 record in 2014.

I don’t have a crystal ball and I make no pretensions to knowing the future, but I’m fairly confident in my assessment of Anthopoulos’ track record. The man has an aversion to making big deals during the season and I don’t see this changing any time soon. Instead, he’ll likely focus on acquiring someone who can help the Jays win today without breaking the bank or sacrificing future assets in the process. Happ fits this bill.

What are your thoughts? Does Happ fit Anthopoulos’ trade history? Would he be an upgrade? Will the Jays even make any trades this year? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

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