Yankees free agent pros and cons: J.A. Happ

Should the Yankees bring back the ever-steady left-hander?
Clap for Happ, who could soon be back.|Art or Photo Credit: AP

The 2018 Major League Baseball season ended Sunday night, and with that end comes a new beginning: free agency.
In earnest, free agency begins Nov. 3, the last of three important dates on the calendar over the next week. Club, player and mutual options (or opt-outs) had to be decided on by Oct. 31, and the first two days of November are the last two days of a five-day window teams have to exclusively negotiate with their own free agents; Nov. 3 is the deadline for clubs to tender their pending free agents the qualifying offer, which players have 10 days to decide on, and at 5 p.m. ET on Saturday, all players are officially on the market.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said in his end-of-season press conference that the rotation will be a focus point for the Yankees this winter, so over this week and next, we'll take a look at three pros and three cons of 10 possible options for the Yankees' rotation.
With the exclusive five-day negotiation window about to expire, we'll shine Friday's spotlight on the Yankees' other postseason starter-turned-free-agent: J.A. Happ.
J.A. Happ has had a long and solid Major League career, and he was everything the Yankees could have asked for and more in his 10-week cameo in pinstripes. After being acquired from Toronto, Happ was 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA in 11 starts, and his final 2018 line was 17-6 with a 3.65 ERA overall in 31 starts with the Yankees and Blue Jays.
A strong cameo, but is he a fit for a full-time, longer-term role with the Yankees?
-Break a Leg, or both. The numbers are above, but that was one hell of an audition for Happ last year, eh? The lefty all but admitted he was revitalized by pitching in a pennant race down the stretch, and it showed. Happ has always pitched well at Yankee Stadium, to be fair, and the thought of re-upping a guy who had a 2.72 ERA in 39 2/3 innings there last season ain't too shabby.
-Sock Game. ALDS Game 1 happened, man, and you can't erase it. But no one pitched well against Boston this postseason, it seemed, until Walker Buehler shut them down in the third game of the World Series. So, we'll still feel safe noting that Happ's career ERA against Boston is under 3.00 (2.97 to be exact), and he has a 3.27 lifetime mark at Fenway Park.
-Cash, man. Happ is 36 years old, and in today's baseball, even a three-year deal (which is what he just came off of) is likely to be tough to find. Just three years ago, a just-turned-37 John Lackey was coming off a season with a 2.77 ERA and over 200 innings pitched, and by the time the Winter Meetings came around, he jumped on a two-year, $32 million deal with the Cubs. The Yankees know what they saw and have seen with Happ, so if they offered him something equivalent early -- 2/32 is actually dead on money-wise with the 3/48 deal Happ just finished -- would he jump on it to return to a contender, and thus help the Yankees navigate the waters a little more easily going forward?
-Sometimes I Rock Fast ... okay, most of the time. Happ was the best available rental starter on the market last summer, and it's okay to admit that played a large part in his acquisition. And, he was effective doing what he does. Here's the thing, though: even with Luis Severino's presence on the roster, the Yankees are one of the most anti-fastball teams in baseball, and Happ is an extreme fastball guy -- he threw a heater 73.4 percent of the time last year, a 10th of a percent shy of his career high, and 59 percent of those were straight four-seamers. Sometimes you have to let the player dictate the system and not the other way around, but do the Yankees want to do that?
-Octo-bomb. Game 1 happened, man, and we admit that. But there's not really much else to say that's not indicative of Happ's Octobers overall. Back in 2016, he only allowed three runs in 10 innings over two postseason starts, but the first of those saw him allow nine hits and a walk (aka he wiggled out of a lot of trouble) and the second saw him give up two big hits at bad times (leadoff homer, two-out RBI single). Before that, you have to go all the way back to the Phillies' back-to-back World Series runs of 2008-09 to get any October stats on Happ, who was a sparingly-used rookie and was lit up in his lone postseason start in the 2009 NLDS. Veteran leadership is key, but someone who knows how to win in October is even more key.
-Cash, man. See the thought above about John Lackey, and raise this: Happ is still in demand, especially as a lefty, and may want to scour the market on his last good chance to cash in. The Yankees need pitching, and will likely act quickly -- too quickly, perhaps, to accommodate Happ, who is maybe at worst the fifth "best" starter on the open market? The post-2015 class Lackey was a part of included David Price, Zack Greinke, Jordan Zimmermann, and Johnny Cueto, among others -- in fact, MLB Trade Rumors had Lackey ranked as the 24th-best free agent that winter, and the Top 23 included 10 established MLB starters as well as the soon-to-be posted Kenta Maeda -- while Happ is looking at Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel and a lot of mid-rotation arms as competition. Good things might come to those who wait, and those who decide not to might reap more rewards than some are willing to give.