The Yankees placed a priority on their starting pitching entering the offseason. They set a goal of acquiring two quality pitchers alongside bringing back veteran starter CC Sabathia, and quickly got ahead of the curve by trading for James Paxton. The field of free agents available almost assured the Yankees would be in on and land one of the best pitchers, and they were constantly attached to the top candidate, Patrick Corbin.
Amidst a scenario like this it was unlikely that the Yankees would prioritize bringing back one of their own free agent pitchers, J.A. Happ. He was excellent in his role as a midseason acquisition from the Blue Jays, and projected to continue averaging close to his 3.4 WAR from 2018, but younger and higher-ceiling pitchers were available. Happ was bound to wait until that second-tier of free agents started signing to gain traction.
But the Yankees struck out on Corbin, and the progression on dealing for another star-caliber pitcher like Corey Kluber or Noah Syndergaard slowed, if it ever got significantly close at all. Options to improve suddenly became a lot smaller, and the quality of pitchers below Happ were frightfully inconsistent. Meanwhile, Happ pushed for a three-year offer from interested teams, and the field hadn’t budged until the Yankees signed the lefty on Wednesday. The fallback option became a necessity.
Putting aside Happ’s capabilities, he provides the Yankees with some flexibility going forward. Happ will solidify the rotatio—assuming Sonny Gray’s departure—with some combination of Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Paxton, and Sabathia lined up. The Yankees could be perfectly comfortable heading into 2019 with those five as their rotation, and look to make any improvements at the trade deadline like they did last offseason. It also doesn’t prevent them from continuing the dialogue on Kluber and Syndergaard should the right deal work its way into existence.
Either way, letting Happ land elsewhere would have put the Yankees in a state of immediate need. Their fallback to the fallback, Lance Lynn, signed a three-year, $30 million deal with the Texas Rangers Wednesday night. The Bombers would have been hard pressed to sign a pitcher on the market that could feasibly produce better than some of the options that they already have on their roster.
It’s fair to be concerned about what a 38-year-old Happ will look like in pinstripes if the third year option on his contract vests, but the way the offseason has developed, they couldn’t afford to get too picky. They are still working on other moves, most notably trying to land Manny Machado on their terms and picking up Adam Ottavino to assist the bullpen, but Cashman prioritized the rotation for a reason. Locking in quality starters was the number one need, and Happ alongside Paxton accomplishes that goal.