J.A. Happ is frustrated that he’s not making more starts, and it’s not just because he wants to take the mound. Happ has a vesting option for 2021 worth $17 million, and he needs to make a certain number for it to kick in. In order to make that $17 million next year, Happ originally needed 165 IP or 27 games started. With the shortened season, those numbers have been reduced to 62 and 10 respectively.
The Yankees have played 25 games so far—they’ve had to delay series against the Phillies and Mets due to COVID-19 precautions and last night, their game against Atlanta was postponed due to rain. Happ has made just three starts so it doesn’t look like he’ll hit that threshold, but with James Paxton on the IL and Luis Sevirino still recovering from Tommy John, the Yankees don’t have many other established options.
On Tuesday, Happ told reporters that he thinks it’s clear why the Yankees haven’t been giving him the ball more often.
J.A. Happ said he thinks it's "fairly clear" why he hasn't had a regular starting schedule. Says reporters are smart, alludes that hey can figure it out. Was asked if he thinks his looming vesting option is what has the Yankees creating this schedule for him.— Brendan Kuty (@BrendanKutyNJ) August 25, 2020
Since the beginning of the 2019 season, Happ hasn’t been as sharp as his first year in New York. His DRA of 6.00 in 2019 was the worst of his career. In 12 2⁄3 innings this year, Happ has only struck out 6 while walking 10. It’s understandable that the Yankees wouldn’t want to pay him $17 million for that kind of performance.
It’s hard to accuse the Yankees of being cheap here. Even if they don’t spend that $17 million on another free agent this year, they did just sign Gerrit Cole to the largest contract ever given to a starting pitcher. Could they still afford to pay Happ next year? Absolutely. Should they? Not unless he starts pitching better.
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