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Blue Jays: J.A. Happ proving he’s worthy of a contract extension

BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 9: J.A. Happ
BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 9: J.A. Happ /
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The Blue Jays have enjoyed the quietly excellent production of J.A. Happ for the last two plus seasons, and should look to extend the veteran left-hander.

The Blue Jays have a pair of exciting young starters in Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez that get the majority of the attention, and with good reason, and that’s been just fine for J.A. Happ in his second tenure with the Blue Jays. All he’s done since coming back to Toronto is go 30-15 with ERAs of 3.18 (31 starts) in 2016, and 3.53 in 25 starts last year.

He’s looked great in the early going this season as well, and Monday night’s performance got his early stats looking more in line with his usual production. He threw well against the Yankees and White Sox, but was tagged for a few bad innings. However, after Monday’s start against the Orioles he sits at 2-1 with a 3.94 ERA, and a WHIP of 1.31, recording 23 strikeouts in just 16 innings.

At 35 years old, Happ shows no signs of slowing down his production, and with his contract coming to an end at the conclusion of this season, the Blue Jays have to be watching closely to what he’s doing on the mound. So far, and I realize it’s very early, there is every reason to believe he can keep this up beyond the 2018 campaign, and I wonder if the Blue Jays and/or Happ’s camp would talk about an extension during the season.

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Many times players choose to focus on their performance on the field and let the contract negotiations play out during the offseason, keeping the distractions to a minimum. It was also a past expectation that players would do better on the open market, so there was incentive to wait and see what other teams might offer if every GM had a chance to chat with their agents.

Things have changed a little bit after this offseason, and it makes me wonder if that might change the approach that Happ and his agent might take with his next contract, which could be his last. If he keeps this type of production up then he’ll have no problem finding a job next year, but it’s hard to say what will be out there for sure. We also saw that the Blue Jays are willing to discuss an extension during the season, when they re-upped with Marco Estrada before the end of last year’s regular season calendar.

His last deal with the Blue Jays was for three years and 36 million, and it seems like a possibility he could look for something in the same neighbourhood. That said, this past offseason taught us that front office’s aren’t valuing veterans in the same way that they used to, and Happ could potentially struggle to find a third year, especially as he turns 36 in October.

He’s definitely producing at a level worthy of keeping him around though, and you have to wonder what the Blue Jays have planned for their rotation beyond this season. Marco Estrada’s new deal will expire again at season’s end, and Jaime Garcia‘s contract contains a club option, which looks like a no brainer at this point. Stroman and Sanchez each have two years remaining before they’ll be free agents, assuming neither is extended themselves.

Maybe they won’t have to keep Happ around depending on what happens with the development of guys like Joe Biagini, Ryan Borucki, and others, but he’s giving them a ton of reasons they should want to. Whether or not they can afford that could depend on what happens with Donaldson’s contract as well, but there are others coming off the books at season’s end like Steve Pearce, Curtis Granderson, as well as the previously mentioned starters.

With so many variables at play, it’s likely that the Blue Jays will wait until the offseason, or at least later in the year before the discussion gets started. However, if they like what they’re seeing from Happ as much as I do, perhaps the discussion happens earlier than they’d planned. He’s been worth every penny of his last contract, and to me he’s definitely worthy of at least a two year extension.

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