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Trade Retrospective: Blue Jays acquire J.A. Happ from Astros in massive 10-player deal

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In a rare occurrence for a baseball trade, both sides paid fair prices and got the expected results.

Toronto Blue Jays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

For the third straight offseason, BtBS is looking back on some of the biggest trades from years past. Check out all the entries here.

Not long before the 2012 trade deadline, the Astros sent J.A. Happ, Brandon Lyon, and David Carpenter to Toronto in exchange for Francisco Cordero, Ben Francisco, and five lower level prospects. These minor leaguers were Joe Musgrove, Asher Wojciechowski, David Rollins, Carlos Pérez, and a player to be named later that turned out to be Kevin Comer.

In this trade retrospective series, trades will still be evaluated based on what was known at the time. That is the only fair, logical way to evaluate trades and strip luck out of the equation: process over results. Having said that, we will still take a look at how the trade worked out for both parties.

The Deal

In last year’s trade retrospective series, we covered the Astros trading for Jed Lowrie. It was the first trade made by then-first year GM and current World Series Champion Jeff Luhnow. It was a great first trade. At the 2012 trade deadline, Luhnow executed a move to address the farm system’s biggest weakness: lack of depth.

The Astros were in the midst of what would be the second of three straight seasons with over 100 losses. They were in full tank mode and trading away any big-league player of value that they could. A back-end starter like Happ did not have a lot of trade value, but he was still under team control through 2014. A player like that would certainly be valuable for a competitive team looking for pitching depth.

Pitching depth is exactly what the Blue Jays needed. Only Brandon Morrow and Carlos Villanueva finished the season with an RA9 below five. The rest of the starters were barely above replacement level. Ricky Romero was infamously bad — he had a 6.07 RA9 over 32 starts, walked everybody, and struck out nobody. He was worth -1.4 bWAR that season. Toronto was really hoping that former first-round picks Deck McGuire and Chad Jenkins would be providing that pitching depth, if not in 2012 then eventually. Unfortunately, they had not developed like the team had hoped. They were both struggling in Double A.

The Blue Jays did well in trading quantity over quality. The major leaguers involved were inconsequential. Cordero was a reliever with a 6.29 RA9. Francisco was a fourth outfielder hitting only .240/.296/.380. They were not making much money, but it appears that the Jays believed that they were no longer worth the roster spots.

Of the five minor leaguers the Blue Jays sent to Houston, three of them were ranked between 10 and 20 in their system according to Baseball America. Rollins was an organizational guy, and Comer was seen as more than that, likely ranking between 20th and 30th in the Jays’ system. The other three prospects were not projected to be impactful, everyday major leaguers. As I mentioned before, they were intended to provide depth to a farm system that badly needed it. Wojciechowski and Musgrove were expected to be relievers. Pérez was looking like he would be no more than a backup catcher given his struggles at the plate.

Happ was obviously the major player going to Toronto, but there were two other big-leaguers going there too. Lyon was another example to pile onto the mountain of evidence against giving relievers more than two years in free agency. It was only a three-year, $15 million deal, but he had a sub-par 4.10 RA9 and a terrible 17 K%. Carpenter was only making the league minimum, but he had regressed badly after a solid rookie season. Though it was only over 29 23 IP, he had a 6.37 RA9 for the Astros that year.

At the time he was sent to Toronto, Happ had a career 4.44 RA9 and a mediocre 19 K%, while walking more hitters than you would like. However, his ground ball rate did take a big step forward in 2012 — it was at 47 percent at the time he was traded. For a pitcher who was pretty much the definition of a “crafty lefty,” it was an improvement he really needed, though his 5.00 RA9 might belie the point. Considering he had a 5.93 RA9 the year before and was one of the worst pitchers in baseball, it looks like using his two-seamer more was helping quite a bit.

The Astros clearly did not need Happ anymore and did well in their return. Sure, it was quantity over quality, but quantity has value, too. The Cole Hamels trade is a good example. Seeing that it did not look like the Jays would be competitive until 2014 at the earliest, it appears that the price they paid was a bit high for a pitcher who was basically an innings eater. Trades are rarely 100 percent even, anyway. It was still a fair trade for both sides, with each team receiving value for what they paid.

The Results

This trade had no significant impact at the major league level. I am not talking about just 2012. I mean ever. Let’s take a look at the prospects it involved first.

Joe Musgrove did not reach the majors until 2016. He has not been any good as a starter, unfortunately, with a career 5.46 RA9 in that role. He was demoted to the bullpen in July 2017 and has been outstanding in that role, albeit in only 31 13 IP. He has a 1.44 RA9, racking up a 26 percent strikeout rate and displaying exceptional control with a 4.2 percent walk rate. He had some BABIP luck and a high strand rate, but the results are promising.

Asher Wojciechowski debuted in 2015 for little more than a cup of coffee. He had a 7.31 RA9 in April before getting sent back to Triple A. In May 2016, he got DFAed. He went from the Marlins to the Diamondbacks to the Reds before finally reaching the majors again. He worked mostly in relief, but he was still ineffective. The Reds then became the fourth team to release him. The Orioles signed him to a minor league deal last month.

Carlos Pérez was traded to the Angels in November 2014. He debuted in 2015 as a backup catcher, but he never figured things out at the plate. He hit .250/.299/.346 that year and was much worse in 2016, hitting 209/.244/.325. He spent most of 2017 in the minors. He is still in the Angels’ organization.

David Rollins ended up being more than just an org guy, though he has barely seen any major league action and has been completely ineffective. The Mariners selected him in the Rule 5 draft in 2014, and he debuted in 2015. Right before that, he was suspended for taking the anabolic steroid Stanozolol, an alleged PED in the game of baseball. He has bounced around organizations since then. He is currently a free agent.

Kevin Comer has yet to make it to the majors. Amazingly, he has been with the Astros until just this past November when he was signed by the Tigers.

On to the major leaguers: Francisco Cordero pitched only five disastrous innings for the Astros before being cut on September 12th, 2012. He did not pitch at all in 2013. In 2014, he signed a minor league deal with the Red Sox but was cut before the end of spring training.

Ben Francisco only played for the Astros through August before getting traded to the Rays. He barely saw any major league time since then. His career officially ended in May 2015 after playing in the Mexican Baseball League. The following year he was hired as a scout for the Angels.

J.A. Happ’s journey has been quite interesting. The Blue Jays kept him through 2014, offering him a two-year deal that covered his last two years of arbitration and adding a team option for 2015. He made only 18 starts in 2013 after tragically taking a line drive off the head in May. Thankfully, he made a full recovery. As for his performance, he was little more than the innings eater he was expected to be with his 4.35 RA9. The Blue Jays traded him for Michael Saunders in December 2014.

Happ continued to be the same pitcher in Seattle and then got traded at the 2015 deadline to the Pirates. That is where pitcher whisperer Ray Searage changed Happ’s life. It was only 11 starts, but Happ had a 1.85 RA9 and a 27.7 K%. Coincidentally, the Blue Jays decided to bring Happ back in free agency, giving him a three-year, $36 million deal. He regressed obviously, but he has still been very good. In two seasons, he has a 3.60 RA9 and has been worth 8.1 bWAR.

Astros Results

Astros Results

Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Joe Musgrove 6 0.7 < $1.0
Baseball Reference

The Astros did not get much at the major league level from this trade. It is was not reasonable to expect much more from a depth trade.

Blue Jays Results

Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
J.A. Happ 2.5 1.7 ~$10
Baseball Reference

I omitted Cordero and Francisco because they barely played. The table only counts Happ’s years from the trade, not when he was brought back in free agency.

The Blue Jays basically got what they paid for. Unfortunately, the Jays were not competitive in 2013 and barely cracked .500 in 2014. It is a trade that was not very exciting on the results front, I am afraid (which won’t be the case for some of the other trades we’ll get into). Both sides more or less got what was reasonable to expect.

. . .

Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.