JA Happ has been solid over the life of his Toronto Blue Jays contract, and he’s the prize of the trade deadline for many contenders.
Well, the first three and a half months of the 2018 MLB season has been rough. The Toronto Blue Jays made some additions in the winter to field a major-league team, but injuries, declines and other calamities have led to a 43-52 record at the All-Star break, leading many contenders to take a look a dissecting the Blue Jays roster for additions for potentially deep playoff runs.
Due to the previously-mentioned injuries and declining value, the one name that still stands out as a viable trade chip is the team’s most consistent starter over the past three seasons, J.A. Happ. The lanky lefty has, at this point, spent most of his career in Toronto, with stints from 2012-2014, and re-signing with the team at the start of the 2016 season after a brief layover in Pittsburgh, working under the tutelage of famed pitching mind Ray Searage.
Since 2016, Happ has been one of the most consistent and overall good starting pitchers in the MLB.
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For the contenders seeking rotation help with dreams of a division title or more, JA Happ is an ideal acquisition. His consistency is his greatest skillset, if you can call it that, but he’s also probably underperformed with Toronto, despite the great numbers. From a Jays From the Couch chat recently, our own Jeff Q set me straight on JA Happ outperforming the eye test:
“Connecting adjectives to performance is problematic, because one person’s great is another person’s elite is another person’s good. Here’s my objective evidence of Happ’s quality. 71 SP have faced 1000+ batters over the 17-18 seasons. Happ ranks 14th in xwOBA, 23rd in wOBA, 26th in FIP and 31st in ERA.
I think that gap of 14th in xwOBA but 31st in ERA sort of speaks to the idea that he might be a lot closer to great than his decent ERA would suggest.
Arguably, if the Toronto defence had been average the last couple seasons, his quality would probably be a lot more self-evident.”
I’ll buy that. And it seems other teams around the league will do so as well. Here’s a look at who they might be.
New York Yankees
The Yankees will be in on everybody, and despite being an in-division foe, they make the most sense. Sonny Gray has had a miserable season, and I don’t think anyone would expect consistency from Domingo German, especially playing the top teams in a playoff race. JA Happ might have an extra shining facet of value to the Yankees as well, and that’s his relevant work experience against the Yankees’ enemy, the Boston Red Sox.
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You’d better believe that matters in what could be the strongest division race in recent history, with both teams easily topping 100 wins. A couple starts from Happ could make a huge difference for the Evil Empire.
The cost of this acquisition for New York will likely be at a premium to Happ’s other suitors, and they shouldn’t have a problem meeting the demands. While many fans will clamor for the likes of Clint Frazier or Justus Sheffield, the Blue Jays will likely have to “settle” for someone farther down the chain than the team’s top prospects.
The Yankees are also in the business of winning right now, so upper-level guys are probably off-limits. That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a package centered around one of this season’s debut arms such as Domingo German or including Jonathan Loaisiga, who isn’t even in the team’s Top 30 on MLB Pipeline, which is loaded to a nearly offensive amount with high-upside arms.
Of course, money complicates things, and as we saw with last season’s Nori Aoki/Teoscar Hernandez for Francisco Liriano trade, Ross Atkins has shown the ability to get creative with deals, benefiting the team with talent and spending a few extra dollars to make it happen.
The Mariners have played the JA Happ game before, but shipped him to Pittsburgh in 2015 before making anything of it. Happ flourished in Pittsburgh and signed with the Blue Jays that offseason, so you can imagine there might be a bit of seller’s remorse here. The Mariners are currently regressing to something more like their true ability, and with anew injury to Felix Hernandez, they are left with a rotation of James Paxton, Wade LeBlanc, and plenty of question marks. Their lineup is fantastic, though, and even if he cannot help the team in the playoffs, Robinson Cano‘s return late this summer will make it even stronger.
Unfortunately for the Mariners, the cupboards are bare despite the beautiful feast on the table. In fact, you won’t even find a Top 100 prospect in Seattle’s system on Fangraphs. With the price for Happ being relatively high, especially between two potential Wild Card rivals, it seems terribly unlikely that Seattle could best an offer from New York.
That doesn’t rule out Seattle entirely, though. The Yankees system is so deep and so good that they could easily go to the Mets and blow them away with a reasonable offer for Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard. However, Seattle would still have to compete with a handful of other teams.
The Brewers are a strong team in a tough division with a solid offense and no ace. They are currently being led in the rotation by Chase Anderson, who is…fine. Brent Suter, Javy Guerra, they’re all fine as well, but the Brewers need a big arm to make this happen, and they don’t have that right now. I’m not sure Happ is that guy, though, and the Brewers have the prospect power to acquire someone like Syndergaard or deGrom.
Selfishly, I would love to see this deal, as it would really mix up the NL playoff race and could potentially net the Blue Jays some excellent pieces going forward. While I don’t think Keston Hiura is remotely touchable in a potential deal, that’s fine. The Blue Jays system has a dearth of outfield talent at the MLB level and below, so a combination of outfielders such as Keon Broxton (he’s 28, but fun), Brett Phillips, Corey Ray or others would be enticing to the Blue Jays. They also have some seriously sneaky-good arms in guys like Kodi Medeiros and Luis Ortiz who are a bit farther away.
Like the Mariners, the Phillies know what they’re getting in JA Happ, though the management that drafted him in 2004 is long gone. Unlike the Mariners, though, they have the prospect power to make it happen, but their rotation is solid at the moment and could play decently in the playoffs.
Like the Yankees, the Phillies are flish with high-upside arms. Immediately jumping off their Top 30 Page at MLB Pipeline are JoJo Romero, Franklyn Kilome and Tom Eshelman. These aren’t the sexiest names available, but they could be a big part of a future Blue Jays pitching staff once the position player prospects come around. Outside of the pitching staff, guys like Jhailyn Ortiz and Adam Haseley could add a few more tools to a mediocre outfield cast in the minors.
The Package Deal
The Blue Jays don’t have to stop with JA Happ in a deal with these clubs. The Phillies and Brewers are currently duking it out with the Dodgers for the services of Manny Machado, and if the Blue Jays want to sweeten their return in a potential Happ deal, they could add in past-AL MVP Josh Donaldson and really execute a blockbuster trade. Again, it gets complicated when so much money and commodities get involved. There’s still a couple weeks until the deadline is here, but it will be a wild ride to see what the Blue Jays roster looks like in August.
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Roy’s earliest memories all involve baseball from the early 90’s and the Blue Jays dream teams. He became a Blue Jays fan while watching Carlos Delgado and Shawn Green evolve in Syracuse, NY at the run-down confines of MacArthur Stadium, nestled between highway and swamp. A lifelong baseball player, Roy still plays (P, C, 2B, 3B) in the 25+ Syracuse MSBL for the Liverpool Mets. He watches almost all games with his best buddy Sebastian, a five year old Pug, who could care less.