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Yankees decline J.A. Happ’s 2021 option

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The 38-year-old heads to free agency again

MLB: ALDS-New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier today, the Yankees announced that the team declined the 2021 option on left-handed pitcher J.A. Happ. The southpaw was slated to receive $17 million next season had the club exercised the option, or if it vested had he made ten regular-season starts in 2020.

Happ, 38, started nine games for the Bombers this year, pitching to a 3.47 ERA (4.57 FIP) across 49.1 innings. He opened the season with a pair of excruciatingly poor outings, and that led the Yankees to skip his turn in the rotation, a move Happ implied as option manipulation. He got back on the horse, though, and turned into one of the team’s most formidable pitchers down the stretch, even tossing the best start by a Yankees pitcher in 2020.

The left-hander made his impression on the postseason, but not in the way he would have liked. The Bombers turned to him in Game Two of the ALDS, after using Deivi García as an opener. The move backfired disastrously, as Happ allowed four runs in 2.2 innings of work. After the game, he made it clear he didn’t approve of the strategy.

“They know how I felt about it. Ultimately, I pitch when I pitch. You got me. There was no hesitation and no dwelling on what was going on. I was focused on trying to perform. I wish I would have done a better job,” he told Alex Smith.

The Yankees first acquired Happ ahead of the trade deadline in 2018. He pitched like an ace down the stretch, going 7-0 in 11 starts with a 2.69 ERA (4.21 FIP) over 63.2 innings. The Bombers rewarded his performance with a two-year contract for $34 million, with an option for 2021.

The two years since haven’t gone as well. Among 170 qualified starters, here’s how he ranked since the start of 2019:

IP: 205.2 (52nd)
ERA: 4.64 (100th)
FIP: 5.16 (135th)
HR/9: 1.8 (135th)
K-BB%: 13.2% (104th)
wOBA: .321 (96th)

Meh.

Hindsight is 20/20 and all that, but the Yankees passed on Patrick Corbin and signed Happ that offseason. That was the obvious call. Shoot, they even let Lance Lynn walk, a better hindsight error.

Given the acrimony between the two sides, I’d say this ends the Yankees-Happ relationship. Stranger things have happened, but thanks for 2018, J.A.—that was cool, at least.