The 2019 New York Yankees starting rotation is starting to come into focus, as the team has agreed with veteran left-hander J.A. Happ on a two-year, $34-million deal that would bring him back to the Bronx. The deal also contains a vesting option for the 2021 season based on innings pitched.
Happ came to the Yankees in exchange for infielder Brandon Drury and outfielder Billy McKinney ahead of the 2018 Trade Deadline. He pitched lights-out for 11 starts in pinstripes, going 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA (4.21 FIP) as the team captured their second consecutive home-field spot in the Wild Card game.
“He was a performer; took the ball every five days,” Cashman said. “He was a competitor, came as advertised, a real pro. He had a veteran presence within that clubhouse, knew exactly what was necessary and brought it every five days in the most competitive division in all of baseball and the world. He checks all the boxes on that side of it.”
The playoffs were a different animal, though. Happ made just one start, lasting two innings and allowing five earned runs in Game 1 of the American League Division Series in Boston. The big blow in that game was a three-run home run by J.D. Martinez.
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic had reported earlier in the day that the two sides were in agreement on a deal with three guaranteed years, though he walked that report back to say they were simply gaining momentum.
Happ had also been courted by the Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies, both teams he has pitched for in the past. The Phillies were hesitant to give Happ more than two guaranteed years, and it appears his recent familiarity with the Bronx plus the prospect of the vesting option prompted his return.
The Yankees may not be done in their pursuit of a starting pitcher, as injuries and ineffectiveness typically rear their ugly heads over the course of a 162-game season. They learned that the hard way when Jordan Montgomery went down for 18 months after just six starts because of Tommy John surgery in 2018.
The team wound up getting 24 starts from Chance Adams, Luis Cessa, Domingo Germán and Jonathan Loáisiga combined, and the team went 12-12 in those games. Sonny Gray, who was acquired to anchor the top of the rotation, started in 12 Yankees losses and was demoted to the bullpen in favor of Lance Lynn after August 1.
“It doesn’t mean we would be out of the market altogether. Obviously the Paxton acquisition gave us the ability to be a lot more disciplined and patient,” Cashman said. “If we pull down another one it will put us in a much stronger position to feel better about the rotation. But that doesn’t preclude us to being open-minded about any options that develop over time.”
With the acquisition of James Paxton and agreement with Happ, the Yankees find their starting rotation in exponentially better shape than last year.