Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher J.A. Happ delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

MLB Trade Rumors: Is Toronto Blue Jays LHP J.A. Happ potential target?

With the World Series just around the corner, the Toronto Blue Jays season has been over for weeks now. Rumours are swirling about what the Jays can possibly do this offseason to make the team better with a limited pot of funds at their disposal.

The farm system was flushed of many of the Blue Jays top prospects last winter so if they want to hold on to some sort of semblance of a minor league system they will probably need to move a player from their MLB roster to get something of even moderate value in return.

One player that the Blue Jays could try to possibility move is 31-year-old LHP J.A. Happ. He’s in the final year of his contract and is scheduled to earn $5.2 million in 2014. He also has a team option for $6.7 million in 2015.

Why would the Blue Jays want to trade a pitcher when they so obviously need help in their rotation, you may ask? He was probably the Jays’ best pitcher in April and could be in for a bounce back season after struggling to finish the year. But with the Jays looking to add a potential top-three starter this winter moving Happ could free up a bit of extra money to go after someone better, either through another trade or free agency.

The Jays are already on the hook to pay Ricky Romero $15 million the next two seasons so that’s pretty much dead money. But if they could unload Happ for a couple of prospects to help rejuvenate the farm system it would also free up additional funds that could be parlayed with the money the Jays (hopefully) would have accounted for to have a shot at resigning Josh Johnson before he fell apart north of the border.

The Blue Jays decided to hang on to Happ this spring when his named popped up in trade rumours this spring (h/t MLB Daily Dish) after deciding they were better off keeping him as an insurance policy and it was probably a good thing they did keep him.

A team can never have enough pitching but with potentially Drew Hutchison, Kyle Drabek, Todd Redmond, Marcus Stroman and Sean Nolin coming at a much cheaper price hopefully the Blue Jays will have the back-end covered in 2014. There’s also the case of Esmil Rogers, who is up for arbitration but is expected to earn about 20-30% of Happ’s 2014 salary (h/t MLB Trade Rumors). It would be a risk for sure but the Blue Jays need to find a way to acquire better pitching and if successful an upgrade would push Happ even further down the depth chart.

What teams could be interested in trading for Happ? SB Nation’s Kansas City Royals’ blog Royals Reviews guesses that Happ could be a bounce-back candidate if KC loses Ervin Santana in free agency this offseason. They do have some good young arms in their system so there’s a chance they might be willing to give one up for a chance to add Happ to the rotation. I’m assuming right-handed pitchers Kyle Zimmer, Yordano Ventura and Sean Manaea are off the table, Miguel Almonte would be a stretch but maybe the Jays take a chance on Jason Adam who could turn into a big-league innings eater. There’s also the chance that a National League team could show interest as he’s a fly ball (yet low HR) pitcher who might find more consistency in a bigger park.

A move like this might give the impression that the Blue Jays are giving up, trading away MLB players for prospects that may never even make it to the Show. Happ’s contract in manageable at $5.2 million and isn’t much of a commitment with a club option for 2015. They could hold on to him for another year but I think at 31 years of age we know what Happ brings to the table. And in my opinion if the Jays are serious about upgrading their rotation he must be moved. Trades are nearly impossible to predict but if the Jays can’t get something done to their liking or don’t want to give up any core players they may be forced to upgrade through free agency. Trading J.A. Happ wouldn’t mean that the Blue Jays are packing it in early before year two of their three-year plan even starts but what I’m trying to say is just the opposite. The Blue Jays need to realize that Happ isn’t good enough if they truly want to compete in the American League East. He’s still a decent option as a fifth starter or emergency arm but at $5M+ and other immovable salary commitments in play it could be the only option the Blue Jays have to make a splash this winter. It still might not be enough but again, in my opinion, it’s the first move that the Blue Jays want to make if they are serious about acquiring even a mid-level starter for 2014 and beyond.

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  • Bob Loblaw

    Makes sense really. If they sign any FA’s, that 5 million would be very helpful. If they trade him for one top prospect, they could flip the prospect in a package for someone they really need, and the 5 million would still help. Or they could trade him outright for a starting catcher/2nd baseman. If the team were able to upgrade the rotation the way they need to, you know Happ would hate to start to season at AAA.

    Although he very well could help you get to the post season, he doesn’t strike me as the kind of pitcher who would thrive there. But hey I’m no expert. The team has gone all in, so they need pitching that will survive and produce in the high-pressure, pitching duel moments, is all I’m saying.

    I think a lot depends on how cheaply they can bring back Johnson. It’d be nice to see really low base salary and high incentives.

  • david s

    I do not have a problem moving Happ out. I say move Stroman up. He is cheaper and an improvement.

    The real gamble I think is getting Johnson back. If he is healthy, if, he would be a great pitcher to have in the AL East. Happ is not a lights out power pitcher the Jays need.

    It’s all a matter of being healthy. Dickey and Mark B will eat innings, but Morrow cannot be the only power pitcher. So bring up the rookie Stroman, get Johnson for a cheaper price and hope that Morrow can get 150 innings in and pitch the best he ever has. Oh and get another top three pitcher to boot… just for insurance.

    Using Happ, Redmond and God help us Rogers as a fifth just will not make the Jays contenders.

    • Justin Jay

      There’s no saying Morrow will be ready either. Reports going back to 9/30 say that he may need surgery. There are also Drabek and Hutchison that may be worth looking at first. Why start Stroman’s eligibility clock if they don’t have to?

  • Andrew van Laar

    I agree trade Happ for whatever you can. We have a number of young guys (Redmond, Jenkins, Stroman, Nolin, Rogers, Drabek, Hutchinson) who can all pitch just as well and cost a fraction of the price. His $5.2 million off the books is $5.2 million that can be spent on actually useful players.

  • Justin Jay

    The only thing that makes me think this won’t happen is the lack of pitching depth. I know there are a lot of calls for Stroman, but I still think that Toronto lets him get a taste of AAA first, especially if they’re going to play the Arb. Eligibility game. I think Happ’s fate depends more on the development of Sean Nolin. They already started his clock.

    And I’m not going to deny that my understanding of this arbitration stuff is something of which I fully understand, but if Nolin is less likely to be a Super 2 than Stroman, maybe it’s more beneficial for Toronto to keep Stroman in AAA, and if Nolin and Romero both look good in Spring Training (and I really feel Romero bounces back this coming season,) ship out Happ and his salary. $5.2M is pricey and it’s been a long time since Happ went 12-4, 2.93, and 1.23 WHIP.

    Between his injury history and lack of effectiveness these last 4 seasons, I’m not really sure what Toronto may get back for him. I think teams looking to acquire him will be willing to take on the payroll to either 1.) Shed the contract in 2014. 2.) Use the team option in 2014 if they strike gold and 3.) Give up fringe players/lower tier prospects/combo of both to acquire him.

  • brad

    I like the idea of shedding Happ’s salary. Most good rotations have 1(and only 1) guy like Happ pitching in the #5 spot. The Jays rotation this year consisted of 3 of them for most of the season(Rogers, Redmond, Happ etc). With Morrow, Drabek, Hutchison, Nolin, Stroman and Romero(?) all expected to be capable of contibuting next year(in addition to Rogers, Redmond and Happ), they have the 5th rotation spot covered(note that I don’t think any of these guys should be higher than the fifth spot/depth next year). With Dickey and Beuhrle you have spots 2-3 reliably covered as well.

    master plan:
    1) trade away Happ for probably just about nothing. Maybe package him with a larger bullpen salary(breaks my heart but Janssen is a prime trade candidate) and get a few reasonable prospects or preferably an average major league second baseman(Espinosa?).

    2)sign risky pitcher to occupy #4 spot. JJ, Halladay and Lincecum are probably not going to get a ton of money this off season. If the Jays could sign one for what they save on Happ that would be great.

    3)pick up another #2 type guy that is not as risky. I get the feeling that the market for Ervin Santana is going to shape up a lot like the market for lohse last season. Not a lot of teams are going to want to give up a first round pick….. but the jays have theirs protected.

    4) sign Ruiz/perzinsky/satltalamachia type catcher for reasonable coin.

    salary gets bumped by about 10-15 million but all the holes are gone… mostly

  • Michael Engel

    I don’t think Adam or Almonte would be on the table for Happ. Both are likely to land in their top 10 prospects and I think KC is comfortable enough in potentially re-signing Bruce Chen, sticking with Shields, Duffy, Ventura, Guthrie, Wade Davis, maybe even Will Smith if they have to rather than trading off a top 10 prospect for Happ.

    Also a note: Sean Manaea is a lefty.

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