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J.A. Happ, An Unhappy Jay

The title is an almost-palindrome. Sort of. OK fine not really. But close.


J.A. Happ is not happy that he is most likely going to be the ace for the AAA Buffalo Bisons no matter how he does this spring. I understand that. He broke into the majors as a 24-year old back in 2007 and finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year award in 2009 just 11 points behind Chris Coghlan. His best year was his rookie year when he was a four-win pitcher and things have not gone as nicely since, but he has had 96 major league starts over six seasons. He did nothing last season or this spring to show that he isn't good enough to be a fifth starter in the majors, it just so happens that he is on one of the few teams that already have their starting five set pretty much in stone.

Alex Anthopoulos and the Blue Jays have said repeatedly that after last year's injuries, the club needs quality depth, and that Happ gives them a quality option to call upon if when a starter goes down this upcoming season. But of course, as a proud competitor, Happ can't be satisfied to know that teams more often than not would need to call on a sixth or seventh starter as the season goes on. Nor would he be satisfied being the long relief option out of the bullpen. After being asked whether he'd rather be a starter in Buffalo or a reliever in Toronto, Happ replied, "I'm a Major League starting pitcher, I guess I'll leave it at that for right now. We'll have to let it play out." He is certainly a major league pitcher, but a victim of his circumstance--being on a club with a fixed rotation and having a remaining option with fewer than five full years of major league service.

Curiously, Happ plans to have a meeting with the Blue Jays front office in the next couple of weeks to talk about his situation, and in his post-game scrum he told the media that he is trying to stay positive and that he knows there are "other people in the stands" (ie. scouts) who may be there to evaluate him in case the Blue Jays approach a team for a trade. With all the talk of depth from Anthopoulos, I cannot see the Blue Jays trying to trade him at this point, no matter how hard Happ is begging them to be freed. Nor do I think Happ is considered for a bullpen job, even with a struggling Brett Cecil.

I have seen some fan comments that have gone the lines of "well if Happ was a team player he'd be happy to be a winning team's backup plan." But hey--not only does it hurt to hear that the best thing he can do for a team is to stay off of it, but remember that Happ can become a free agent after the 2014 season (by that time he would be 31 years old), so having 30 major league starts in the next couple of years would definitely boost his value more than having 30 in AAA. I am completely understand why he would want to go ask for a trade.

The club did sign Happ to a $3.7 million contract for 2013, a lot to pay for a AAA starter. To me, the value of the offer was that high to partially compensate the pitcher for being relegated to the minors, and it also shows the worth the Jays see in him. Although as a competitor who has worked his whole life to get to the major leagues and stay there, that won't prove to be too much comfort during ten-hour bus rides through the International League.