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Should the Blue Jays look at a J.A. Happ reunion?

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Swapping J.A. Happ for Michael Saunders didn’t really help the Mariners or the Blue Jays in 2015 after an offseason trade. Saunders spent nearly the entire year on the shelf, and Happ posted 20 disappointing starts as a Mariner with a 4-6 record, 4.64 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. Yet after being flipped to the Pittsburgh Pirates at the trade deadline, Happ surged to a record of 7-2. Furthermore, his ERA and WHIP as a pirate (1.85, 1.03) represent career lows for the 33 year old southpaw. With his time in Pittsburg, Happ saw his his walk rate drop and his K/9 rate dramatically increase. Happ emerged as a frontline starter down the stretch, as the Pirates seemingly “fixed” Happ.

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This would figure Happ for a raise, and Fangraphs suggests he’s due for one as well. They project a three year, $33 million deal to be the final free agent numbers with Happ. This is notable raise from the $6.7 million he earned in 2015. That said, if Happ truly has turned the corner, he would be a worthwhile addition to any team. Here’s where the Blue Jays come in. Potentially.

The Jays naturally need pitching, and though they just signed Estrada, Shapiro and LaCava have indicated they’d prefer to add two more arms. While Happ was subpar with the Jays during his original tenure, (11-11, 4.22 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in his 2014 season), he was consistent. If Happ can even carry over some of his mechanical improvements with the Pirates, he would easily slot back in as the #4 or #5 guy of his former rotation.

The real problem is the contract. Toronto would seem unlikely to give Happ $30+ million for any three-year contract, nor is Happ likely to accept an incentive deal. However, if the Jays looked to extend a contract between 15-20 Million dollars for 2 years, that could represent a more comfortable middle ground. In doing so, Happ would be deservedly increasing his salary and giving himself another window to prove that he’s for real across a longer sample, potentially landing him a multi-year deal into his twilight years.  While this may not be probable, Happ could definitely be a worthwhile addition for just over the Qualifying Offer that he did not receive.

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He’s not the most attractive name on the Free Agent market, but he does sit on the tier of pitching that Toronto is most likely to target. Happ will definitely have fewer suitors than most pitchers on the market, and could be tempted early by a lower multi-year offer if other teams wait to see how things shape up with higher end names. The Jays could benefit by being aggressive early with names like Happ.

The Royals made a similar move recently, signing a Pirates starter coming off a successful season after a career riddled with 4.00+ ERAs. Last offseason they signed Edinson Volquez to 20 million over two years, and I don’t think the Royals and their rings are complaining about that deal now. With the meeting of need and value here, Happ crossing the border again may not be as improbable as it sounds.

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