J.A. Happ was widely believed to be the best starting pitcher among those known to be available prior to the non-waiver trade deadline. The Yankees badly needed a rotation upgrade, and General Manager Brian Cashman prioritized acquiring the 35-year-old left-hander.
After coming over from the Toronto Blue Jays on July 26th in exchange for infielder Brandon Drury and outfielder Billy McKinney, Happ did not disappoint. Although we hoped that he would represent a significant improvement over internal fifth-starter options, he turned out to be so much more. Happ quickly became the club’s most consistently effective starter — dominant even — and remained so through the end of the year.
2018 Yankees Statistics: 63.2 IP, 2.69 ERA, 4.21 FIP, 8.9 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 1.4 HR/9, 1.05 WHIP
2019 Contract Status: Free agent
Anytime the Bombers acquire someone who previously performed in a small market, nervousness about his ability to succeed in the Baseball Cathedral inevitably arises. Any questions about Happ were quickly and emphatically erased, though. He started his first game in pinstripes on July 29th, and allowed just one run on three hits over six strong innings, as the Bombers defeated the Kansas City Royals at Yankee Stadium.
Thus began a stretch where Happ won five straight starts for New York. He followed the curtain raiser by giving up three runs on four hits to the Texas Rangers, and then hurled seven scoreless, one-hit frames against the Tampa Bay Rays.
He then produced a pair of two-run outings, first against his former team and then versus the Baltimore Orioles. Then came the only stinker of his Yankees career, a five-hit, ten-run shellacking at the hands of the Detroit Tigers. That was also the only regular season start where Happ failed to complete five innings.
He bounced back to limit the Oakland Athletics to one run on two hits, he held the Minnesota Twins scoreless over six, and then allowed just one unearned run to the Boston Red Sox. In his penultimate start, Happ limited the Orioles to just one run. He followed that performance by beating the Red Sox in Fenway Park on the final Friday of the regular season, as the Yankees finally clinched home-field advantage for the American League Wild Card Game.
Overall, Happ went 7-0 for the Yankees, with the team winning nine of his eleven regular-season starts. He didn’t fare well in his lone postseason outing in Boston, but that hardly tarnishes his resume. After all, the Red Sox made mincemeat of all comers throughout October during their triumphant march to the title.
Happ was a godsend for the Yankees after joining the team. He was instrumental in helping the club clinch home-field advantage for the Wild Card Game by a slim three-game margin over the insurgent Athletics. Had it not been for Happ’s important contribution, that winner-take-all affair probably would have been played in the cavernous Oakland Coliseum. Although the Yankees’ 2018 postseason run was brief, the Bronx faithful were treated to one final victory on the hallowed grounds of Yankee Stadium, as well as a thrilling Division Series against the eventual World Series champion Red Sox, in large part due to Happ’s tremendous efforts. For that, we are very grateful.