Are Blue Jays Truly Happ-y? – Happ Returns To Toronto


The Blue Jays signing of J.A. Happ solidifies the rotation picture, but means the end of the David Price courtship.

The Blue Jays re-signed a left-handed starting pitcher on Friday night, but as the money can tell you, it’s not David Price coming back to the 6.

It was inevitable given the price tags that teams like Boston and the Cubs were throwing around. As FOX’s Ken Rosenthal reported, all the Blue Jays had to offer were familiar surroundings. Instead it’s veteran lefty J.A. Happ, who was dealt almost one year ago today by the Blue Jays, who returns to the fold on a three-year, $36M deal, as per MLB’s Gregor Chisholm. Blue Jays fans, you were not alone in being surprised by this deal.

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Barring a trade, this signing will likely take the Blue Jays out of the running for A-B level starting pitching. With moves already made to acquire Jesse Chavez and re-sign Marco Estrada, the addition of Happ solidifies the rotation and means previously bandied names like Jeff Samardzija, Jordan Zimmermann and yes, Price and Zach Greinke, are off the table. This news was the more prominent of the two takes fans had in regards to Happ’s return.

However, there is reason for optimism with the signing. Price got the majority of the headlines as the trade deadline pitching acquisition with the highest return for his new club. His 9-1 record and 2.30 ERA speak for itself. Happ was even better with his new ball club than Price was. After being acquired from the Mariners for minor leaguer Adrian Sampson, Happ was sparkling for the Pirates in their run to the post-season. In 11 starts, Happ allowed a paltry 13 runs and posted a H/9 rate of 7.4. Those numbers are downright Estradan. Not only that, Happ’s simplified pitching approach and increased usage of his fastball under Pirates’ pitching guru Ray Searage led to an increase in strikeouts as well, his K/9 doubling from 2.56 in Seattle to 5.31 in Pittsburgh.

By signing Happ now to a reasonable deal, similar to that of the aforementioned Estrada, the Blue Jays set the contract bar very high for other teams trying to negotiate deals with free agent pitching.

A Zimmermann or Yovani Gallardo or Mike Leake can look at an offer from a mid-market team and say “J.A. Happ just got $36M so I’m worth way more than him” and put the screws to a team like Texas, like the White Sox, like Baltimore and force them to make tough choices on which arms they actually want to acquire. If they are priced out of the competition or have to put more of their free agent kitty in one starting pitcher, then that means they can’t make a pitch for a Darren O’Day or Joakim Soria, who could help the Blue Jays bullpen as well.

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By striking quickly and setting the bar where they want it, Mark Shapiro and Tony La Cava are now not held captive by the collective price. They can afford to sit back and watch the competition overspend on pitching. They might even be able to wait out a pitcher or two who falls into the Ervin Santana category in 2014. Santana had to wait until March to get a deal, and even then it was a one year contract with Atlanta. The strategy worked for him as he parlayed that into a five-year $70M contract last offseason with Minnesota. With the plethora of pitchers available, it would be easy for someone like Scott Kazmir or Doug Fister to fall into a similar crack, and if the Blue Jays want to add another starter then, they have that option at a rate more conductive to the all-in strategy the contracts to Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are fostering for 2016.

Next: What Else Have the Jays Done This Offseason?

J.A. Happ is not an ace. He doesn’t have to be on a team that has Marcus Stroman, R.A. Dickey and Estrada as its top three starting pitchers. Happ can be the 4th starter and with this new pitching strategy be a more effective force than Blue Jays fans remember him being during his previous tenure. He won’t walk as many batters, and he’ll have a better defense with him. If Happ is able to pitch near the level that he did for Pittsburgh down the stretch, the Blue Jays will have another arm more than capable of keeping that offense in games. That’s all the Blue Jays need at this point.