Earlier this season, J.A. Happ implied the Yankees were trying to control how many starts he got in this shortened season. And the whole reason revolves around the vesting option he has for the 2021 season.
But with the postseason around the corner, the whole dilemma between Happ, the Yankees and the vesting option isn’t a story for October baseball. That’s why Happ should be in the starting rotation plans for good once the regular season is over.
In short, Happ needed 27 starts or 165 innings pitched this regular season – before the pandemic shortened it – to have his $17 million vesting option kick in for the 2021 season. But since his thresholds with the shortened season are not like other pro-rated ones (for reasons unclear), there is a current dispute over how many starts or innings pitched Happ needs exactly. There may even be a grievance hearing down the road because of it. Either way, it has been obvious the Yankees were holding him out longer than normal between starts for a reason.
And Happ has a right to be ticked off about controlled playing time since he has been great for the Yankees this season. His latest start against the Boston Red Sox resulted in an eight-inning shutout, allowing four hits with nine strikeouts. It’s his best start of the season. Happ now owns a 3.25 ERA over eight outings this season – much better than his 4.91 ERA in 2019.
Postseason baseball doesn’t count toward regular season totals, as many know, so Happ’s starts and inning pitched all reset. And since he’s pitched so well, using that fastball up in the zone to get swings and misses and spotting his off-speed stuff, the Yankees should be plugging him in behind Masahiro Tanaka are the third starter with Gerrit Cole at the top.
Aaron Boone made the call to have Happ out of the rotation in last year’s postseason race because he wasn’t pitching consistently all year long. It was the right call at the time with Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton the three starters with an occasional Chad Green opener if need be.
But Happ will be looking for some redemption this time around, and the Yankees certainly need it because of the injuries plaguing their rotation to begin with. Luis Severino has been out all season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and Paxton most likely won’t be a factor in the postseason as he’s dealing with injury. On top of that, Tanaka hasn’t been the most consistent No. 2 this year either.
The bigger question for the Yankees is what to do with that fourth option in the rotation (Deivi Garcia has been making his case) because Happ has pitched well enough to be the lefty that complements Cole and Tanaka ahead of him.