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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: J.A. Happ

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Was Happ’s strong showing in pinstripes enough to warrant a longer stay?

New York Yankees v Minnesota Twins Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The Yankees have already bolstered their starting rotation with the acquisition of lefty James Paxton, but as Brian Cashman said before and after the deal for Big Maple, there is still work to be done. Cashman recognized the need for starting pitching after it failed miserably in the ALDS, and the plans in the offseason have been clear: grab two starting pitchers and take it from there.

The obvious choice for acquisition number two was Patrick Corbin, but he is headed to Washington after New York refused to go beyond a five-year deal, as the richest franchise in baseball has apparently fallen on hard financial times. With Corbin out of the picture, does fellow southpaw J.A. Happ move to the top of the team’s list?

The most recent memories of Happ as a Yankee are not good, as the southpaw was shelled in Game One of the ALDS against the Red Sox. That came after he allowed four runs over six innings in his last start of the regular season, again at Fenway. That outing felt like Happ was left in for just a tad too long, as he was cruising through five shutout innings before allowing a grand slam to Yankee-killer Steve Pearce.

Was Happ’s playoff clunker a product of facing the same team multiple times in a week? Not to mention, he also took the mound against Boston on September 18th, tossing six innings without allowing an earned run. That’s three starts against Boston in less than three weeks. Perhaps those dangerous Boston bats became familiar with Happ, causing his playoff struggles.

One of the reasons behind bringing Happ to New York was his past success against the Red Sox, but he also had success against just about everyone else after coming to the Bronx. He posted a 2.69 ERA in pinstripes over 63.2 innings, while recording a 4.20 FIP. That FIP is fairly average, but his overall mark for the season was a solid 3.98. His HR/9 also went down in the second half of the season, after coming to hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium. Happ showed he could survive in a smaller park, and his lengthy experience in the AL East helps that cause as well.

Of course, the million-dollar question is whether Happ could maintain that production in 2019, and possibly beyond. He just turned 36, and after finishing 2017 with an average fastball of 92.94 mph, he finished 2018 with an average heater of 92.74 mph. That’s not much of a drop-off, but for a pitcher who uses his fastball almost 75 percent of the time, any velocity loss will be a factor for Happ heading into 2019. If his velocity remains about what it was in 2018, combined with his career-best strikeout rate last year, Happ should earn himself a solid contract. MLB Trade Rumors predicts three years, $48 million for Happ this offseason.

For the Yankees, Happ has shown an ability to succeed in New York, and would be a quality arm in the back of the rotation to help keep the bullpen fresh. With Corbin now out of the picture, Happ will be a name to keep an eye on.