A decision has been made: according to Jon Heyman, Alex Anthopoulos has decided to take J.A. Happ to be his pitcher for 2015, picking up a $6.7 million club option that was placed on Happ's contract when he and the Blue Jays negotiated an extension in spring training 2013.
the jays will exercise j.a. happ's $6.7M club option— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) November 1, 2014
But Happ likely isn't thinking much about the extension right now. There are more important things on his mind. There is an even bigger "I do" coming later today, one that will be coming from Morgan Cawley, one that will be made before hundreds of family and friends instead of a few executives and his agent. (As an aside: according to Baseball-Reference, Happ's agent is named Jay Fee--his name basically promises that he will get money from the Toronto baseball club.)
You see, today J.A. Happ is getting married in Spring Valley, Illinois, just down the street from Peru, Illinois, where he was born and went to school (I've always claimed that Happ is the first Peruvian to pitch for the Blue Jays). We at Bluebird Banter sends our best wishes to the happy couple despite not receiving invitations to the wedding.
The 32-year-old left hander was acquired by the Blue Jays in mid-2012 in a trade with the Houston Astros for a bunch of players who still dominate the northern part of the Blue Jays Roster Tree Route Map. He was a starter for the Astros but was sent off to the bullpen when he first arrived in Toronto, a decision he wasn't very happy about.
He got some starts later that season but, in an offseason development that probably made him even less happy, the Blue Jays went out to acquire Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, and R.A. Dickey to complement Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero. J.A. Happ was out of a job--through the second-last week of spring training 2013 despite having a good spring--it looked like he was destined to be the ace of the newly affiliated triple-A Buffalo Bisons. He didn't hide his discontent with Jays management as we can see in this Blake Murphy piece.
Then, Ricky Romero happened. Soon after that, Happ found himself with a brand new two-year contract with a third-year club option, the one that was picked up today. Anthopoulos was asked why he pulled the trigger on the extension and he said, "we can afford to spend more now." Who knew that "now" meant literally right then and never again?
Happ was the Jays' fifth starter coming out of the gate in 2013 before being nailed in the head by a Desmond Jennigs line drive on May 7 down at Tropicana Centre. The awkward fall hurt his knee and that kept him from pitching in the big leagues until exactly three months later.
In spring training this season, Happ lost his starting job again, this time to Dustin McGowan. He was placed on the disabled list with "back soreness" that required an epidural. He was activated on April 17 and was again sent to the bullpen, and again he was not happy with that decision. But fortune struck and he was returned to the starting rotation when Brandon Morrow got injured. Happ got a chance to show off his new, faster fastball as well as a lower arm slot, and ended up with a pretty good season as the club's fifth starter, providing a steady six or seven innings every fifth day. Instead of replicating work, I'll let you go over and read Tom's recap on Happ's 2014. To summarize, Happ wasn't spectacular but managed to do exactly what a good fifth starter should do, being a consistent mediocre (other than a particularly good stretch in the summer which included a 12-strikeout performance).
But despite being guaranteed a $6.7 million salary for 2015, Happ will likely still have to battle for a spot on the rotation when he arrives in Dunedin in February. Although offseason moves and injuries are very possible, right now it looks like the first four slots of the 2015 starting rotation will be filled by R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Drew Hutchison, and Marcus Stroman. Happ probably has been pencilled in for the fifth spot, but will have to contend with a group of Sean Nolin, Daniel Norris, Kendall Graveman, Aaron Sanchez, and perhaps even Liam Hendriks as dark horses. And even if Happ wins the roster spot on Opening Day, he will be looking over his shoulder all season.
There probably won't be a lot coming back in return if the Jays decide to trade Happ this offseason; however, if one of the Blue Jays' pitching prospects is ready and Happ reprises his 2014 performance to start next year (and everyone else is healthy and doing well), the Blue Jays can dangle the southpaw in front of some pitching-desperate club for a useful piece.
Ultimately I think picking up the option will turn out well for the Blue Jays. The $6.5 million net savings (minus buyout) could've been allocated to other signings during these days of financial inflexibility, but I think by now most Blue Jays fans would understand the tremendous value of having good pitching depth and above-replacement-value fifth starters. He might not give the 2015 Jays the 1.6 WAR Steamer projects, but an open-market win is now worth north of $6 million so there is pretty good odds that Happ will be worth, or nearly worth, the $6.5 million net. Also, if Anthopoulos had declined the option, how can we deal with the loss of one of my favourite Jays parody Twitter accounts?