The Blue Jays signing of old friend J.A. Happ to a three-year, $36 million contract in late November met mixed reviews, but it also lacked market context at the time
When the Blue Jays reunited with J.A. Happ on November 27th, the timing of the deal played as big a role in the player fit and value. Big-name deals are expected in the early stages of free agency, often to empty results, but the annual average salary of $12 million to Happ had few other contracts to be compared to at that point in the offseason.
The Blue Jays had clearly intended to get out ahead of the market, and in hindsight, that may have been a wise move. Contracts took another step north this offseason, especially on the relief and starting pitching markets, and especially among B-level names.
Today’s agreement between the Marlins and left-handed starter Wei-Yin Chen is another example of this. Now, undoubtedly, the veteran pitcher has been a more consistent performer than Happ over his four-year career and is receiving a higher salary for several reasons.
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Chen has averaged 2.4 WAR per season over the past four years, and has topped 185.0 innings pitched in three of those years. Happ is coming off a 3.3 WAR season of his own, though that is a career outlier (his only season of 2.0 WAR or higher) and his 172.0 innings from 2015 represent a career high. Regardless, these deals that have come after Happ’s should soften the doubt in the minds of those who disagreed with it at the time, as the deal appears more logical now when framed within the larger picture.
Past the mega-deals handed out to names like David Price and Zack Greinke, there are a handful of other deals to stack Happ’s relative value up against. Jordan Zimmerman is set to earn $110 million over five years in Detroit, Jeff Samardzija will earn $90 million over five years in San Francisco while Mike Leake will earn $80 million over five in St. Louis.
Inching closer to Happ’s value, Scott Kazmir has signed a three year deal worth $48 million in Los Angeles while John Lackey will earn $32 million on a shorter two-year deal with the Cubbies. These also provide an excellent opportunity to compare the value of Marco Estrada‘s two-year, $26 million deal, though I have the sense that Happ’s contract has drawn more ire.
If a team is able to choose the right market to bet on, there’s an advantage in shopping before tiered prices have been established. So while the player and contract details have not changed here over the past month, the market fit of the deal seems more natural than it may have at the time.