December 17th: The contract is finally official. The Yankees announced it earlier today. Happ gets $17M in 2019 and $17M in 2020 with the $17M vesting option for 2021. Joel Sherman says the option vests with 165 innings or 27 starts in 2021, which are quite reasonable terms. There is no buyout on the option, so Happ comes with a $17M luxury tax hit through the life of the contract.
To clear space on the 40-man roster, the Yankees designated righty Parker Bridwell for assignment, the team announced. He was claimed off waivers from the Angels a few weeks ago. I had a feeling one of the out of minor league options arms (Bridwell, Luis Cessa, Domingo German, A.J. Cole) would get the roster axe for Happ and Bridwell it is. He could clear waivers and remain in the organization as a non-40 man roster player.
December 12th: After some confusion, it appears the Yankees and J.A. Happ have agreed to a reunion. Mark Feinsand reports the Yankees and Happ have agreed to a two-year contract with what sounds like a third year vesting option based on innings and starts. There’s no word on the money or terms yet. Joel Sherman says the deal could be announced tomorrow.
“A real pro,” Brian Cashman said to Ronald Blum when asked about Happ. “Had a veteran presence within that clubhouse, knew exactly what was necessary and brought it every five days in the most competitive division in all of baseball.”
As I wrote earlier today, I didn’t like the idea of a guaranteed third year at all, so I’m glad the Yankees and Happ were apparently able to compromise with a vesting option. Happ turned 36 a few weeks ago and guaranteeing multiple years to a pitcher that age is always risky. At least the Yankees were able to mitigate that risk somewhat.
Once this deal is official the Yankees will be slated to go into next season with Happ, Luis Severino, CC Sabathia, James Paxton, and Masahiro Tanaka as their five-man rotation in whatever order. That’s a rock solid rotation with upside in Severino and Paxton (and Tanaka). The Yankees still have Sonny Gray too, though I get the sense he’ll be gone before Spring Training.
This past season Happ threw 177.2 innings with a 3.65 ERA (3.98 FIP) between the Yankees and Blue Jays, and his 26.3% strikeout rate was a career high by 3.3 percent points. His 27 home runs allowed were also a career high (by five). Happ had a 2.69 ERA (4.21 FIP) in eleven starts and 63.2 innings with the Yankees after the trade.
With Happ back in the fold the Yankees can now focus on a Didi Gregorius replacement and the bullpen, plus general depth. A better sixth starter than Domingo German and Luis Cessa would be cool given Paxton’s and Sabathia’s injury histories. Will the Yankees pivot and go after Manny Machado or Bryce Harper? I sure hope so.