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Today in Blue Jays history: Happ/Saunders trade

Toronto Blue Jays v Minnesota Twins Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Six years ago today

The Blue Jays traded J.A. Happ to the Mariners for Michael Saunders.

Happ had been with the Blue Jays for 2.5 seasons since he came over in a big 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 Jinjuries (including a knee injury suffered while falling after he got hit in the head with a line drive. a terrifying moment), and J.A. 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 strike zone, 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 they traded him 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 happy to get the Canadian outfielder (and he was pleased to come and play in Canada. Our poll, the day after the trade, was pretty enthusiastic:

Moving the left-handed power hitter from the pitcher-friendly park in Seattle to the much more offense 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 Saunders 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. Michael was hitting .298/.372/.551 with 16 home runs at the All-Star break and 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.

Since then, he’s been signed and released by the Pirates, Royals, Orioles, White Sox, and Rockies but hasn’t made it back to the majors.

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.