Four years ago today we traded J.A. Happ to the Mariners for Michael Saunders.
Happ had been with the Blue Jays for 2.5 seasons since a trade with the Astros. We sent Francisco Cordero, Ben Francisco, Joe Musgrove, Carlos Perez, David Rollins, Asher Wojciechowski and Kevin Comer to Houston for Happ, David Carpenter and Brandon Lyon.
Happ, in his first run with the Jays, was kind of up and down. He went 19-20 with a 4.45 ERA in 58 games, 50 starts. He missed some time with injuries (including a knee injury, suffered while falling after he got hit in the head with a line drive. A very scary moment.) and he spent more time in our minor league system than he felt appropriate.
He wasn’t the pitcher we saw the last couple of years. He tended to nibble at the corners of the strikezone, running up his pitch count while walking more batters than we would have liked.
Happ had a rough time with the Mariners (4.64 ERA in 21 games, 20 starts) when he was traded to the Pirates, where he (working with pitching coach Ray Searage) learned how to throw strikes and get outs. With the Pirates he went 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA in 11 starts.
Saunders was coming off an injury shortened 2014 season, where he hit .273/.341/.450 with 8 home runs in 78 games. We were pretty happy to get the Canadian outfielder (and he was happy to come and play in Canada. Our poll, the day after the trade, was pretty enthusiastic:
We felt that moving the left-handed power hitter from the rather huge park in Seattle to the much more offensively friendly Rogers Centre would help his numbers. Of course, I also thought that moving Happ to Seattle would help out his numbers.
All seemed good until Saunders lost an argument with sprinkler and wrecked his knee in spring training. He would miss pretty much all of the 2015 season (he did get into 9 games, but he likely shouldn’t have). I’d love to see what happened in the alternate universe where he didn’t wreck his knee. Would he still be patrolling the outfield for us?
2016 went much better. Or at least the first half of the 2016 season went much better. He was hitting .298/.372/.551 with 16 home runs at the All-Star break and he made the AL All-Star team. The second half wasn’t as successful (.178/.282/.357 with 8 home runs).
After the season he signed with the Phillies as a free agent. He didn’t last long in Phillies colors, getting his release on June 23rd, after hitting .205/.257/.360 in 61 games. We signed him again, and he played in Buffalo, until we brought him up as a September call up. Michael had 3 hits in 20 PA.
Happ? You know the story. We got him back, signing him as a free agent before the 2016 season. He would win 20 games that year, losing just 4, with a 3.18 ERA (coming in 5th in the Cy Young voting) and he pitched in the playoffs.
He’d win 40 games in 2.5 seasons for us, before we sent him to the Yankees for Brandon Drury and Billy McKinney. I hope, four years from now, we will be looking back on that trade fondly.
This trade didn’t do what either team hoped, but Happ found his way back to us and Saunders gave us some fun moments. All in all I’m glad it happened.