The Yankees understood additions (or re-additions in this case) to the rotation would be in order this offseason.
J.A. Happ was an obvious choice.
Happ's discernible fit, based on his very strong two-plus months with the Yankees after being traded by the Toronto Blue Jays, placed the left-hander high on the shopping list. Happ, a first-time All-Star in 2018, had plenty of other suitors, and similarly the Yankees were speaking with several free agents.
It appeared that left-handed starting pitcher Patrick Corbin, the big-ticket arm on the free-agent market, was at the top of the Yankees' wish list. Corbin's price shot well above the Yankees parameters, and thus the club shifted attention to Happ. The 36-year-old southpaw reportedly had multiple offers on the table, some more lucrative than he ultimately signed with the Yankees.
Some believe that losing out on Corbin was a big mistake, even with the Yankees' acquisition of James Paxton from the Mariners. That same faction believes Happ's addition will ultimately be insufficient. The Yankees disagree.
Happ is aging quite gracefully, and he was the Yankees' best starter from the moment he donned pinstripes last July. Happ surprisingly faltered in the postseason (something that is being held against him by contrarians, especially since he was so good in the past against the Red Sox). That said, there is little denying that the Yankees might not have held home-field advantage in the wild-card game without Happ in the rotation.
The Yankees constructed their rotation by taking the path of trading for their front-end arm (Paxton) at a lesser cost, which can be viewed as a hedge that they might not land Corbin. When that scenario came to fruition, they bolstered the middle of the rotation with Happ for a cost of $17 million per season over two years with a vesting option for a third season. The expectation is that Happ will fortify the middle of the rotation for the next couple of years and potentially round out the back end as he hits is age-38 season.
Looking into the 2019 season, Happ will slot as the No. 3 or No. 4 starter depending on how the Yanks want to deploy their rotation after Luis Severino and Paxton. Similarly to Masahiro Tanaka, whom we recently covered, Happ doesn't have to be overwhelmingly dominant to be a significant contributor.
It's an obvious stretch to believe Happ will replicate his 7-0 record and 2.69 ERA run in 63 2/3 innings (11 starts) with the Yankees last season. Yet Happ, who has averaged 3.8 WAR over the last three seasons, has situated himself in a grouping of above-average MLB starters and is certainly better than most teams will slot as its third (or fourth) starter. As such, it is more than reasonable to believe Happ will produce to the level expected of his place (potentially above it) on the rotation's depth chart.
Happ, also like Tanaka, is not going to provide a ton of innings. However, he has been more durable than his teammate, making an average of 30 starts over the last five seasons with just three stints on the injured list during the span. This is important, as the Yankees' depth beyond the top five starters contains young, inexperienced arms with no assurances.
With Happ, the Yankees will trot out a more than reliable starter, one that could very well provide No. 2 type upside. Happ comes at a salary that can be surpassed by his performance value and the commitment in years was something the Yanks felt comfortable with as opposed to Corbin's overall contract term.
If Happ stays on the path he's created over the last three seasons -- and there is no reason to believe he cannot -- he'll prove the Yankees made the right call in obtaining his services.