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
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.