It may not have been the sexy free agent signing for a starting pitcher that Blue Jays fans were hoping for, but it was a free agent signing nonetheless.
In a very unexpected move (and in very Anthopoulos-like fashion), the Blue Jays capped off their Black Friday shopping by inking J.A. Happ to a three-year/$36 million dollar deal.
I think most people’s initial reaction to this move was … “huh?”
There was no indication that Happ was even on the Blue Jays’ radar when it came to free agent targets. In fact, most have been distracted the past week by the prospect of David Price coming back to Toronto.
However, by signing J.A. Happ, one would think that closes the door on any potential return to the Blue Jays for David Price. It’s not completely out of question, but with an additional $36 million committed to yet another starting pitcher, any reunion with Price is nearly out of the question.
In the meantime, it seems like the Blue Jays have cornered the market on mid-tier starting pitchers. They now have J.A. Happ signed for $10 million next year, Marco Estrada for $11 million and R.A. Dickey for $12 million.
That’s not a bad strategy if you’re the Toronto Blue Jays. Rather than putting all their eggs in one basket with David Price, it looks like they’re going for quantity of starting pitchers rather than targeting the top names on the free agent market.
Much like the acquisition of Jesse Chavez, the signing of J.A. Happ may not be a big splash or one that turns many heads initially, but it’s a move that could provide the Blue Jays with some good value down the road. Even at $36 million dollars over three years, it’s a small gamble to take.
Another positive side effect of this signing is it not only lengthens the Blue Jays starting pitching depth chart, but it also increases the likelihood that Aaron Sanchez and Roberto Osuna remain in the bullpen as late relievers; roles where they have flourished.
Now at the very least, the role of the Blue Jays’ fifth starter will be played by either Jesse Chavez or Drew Hutchison; whereas just a few weeks ago, the Jays’ starting pitching consisted of Marcus Stroman, R.A. Dickey and then three poor, unfortunate souls.
The question everyone is asking is “which J.A. Happ are the Blue Jays getting?” Are they getting the 2012 – first half of 2015 version who was mediocre at best? Or are they getting the second half of 2015 version of J.A. Happ who was completely reinvigorated with the Pittsburgh Pirates?
It may have been some of that magic pitcher’s pixie dust that Pirates’ pitching coach Ray Searage, as he was instrumental in the turnaround of many starting pitchers in recent years: A.J. Burnett, Edinson Volquez and Francisco Liriano, to name a few.
It’s presumptuous to assume J.A. Happ will continue that torrid pace with the Blue Jays over the next three years of his deal. But at the very least, they’re getting a mid-rotation arm with the potential to make 30 starts and throw around 160-170 innings.
Admittedly, the announcement of the J.A. Happ signing seems like a letdown compared to any potential mega-deal for David Price. Many are still adamant that the Blue Jays absolutely need to bring back David Price because they can’t win a World Series without an “ace”.
Oh yes, they can.
Just look at the Kansas City Royals; their starting rotation had the fourth highest ERA in the American League, and yet they rode their starting pitchers all the way to a World Series title. The Royals lacked a true “ace”, but that didn’t seem to impede their ability to eventually become the best team in baseball in 2015.
J.A. Happ may not be a Cy Young candidate or even a number two starter, but he’s a serviceable arm. And after the departure of David Price and Mark Buehrle and the many innings they logged in 2015, the Blue Jays need as many serviceable arms as they can get.
J.A. Happ is just one more of them.
Image courtesy of Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images Sport