The Winter Meetings are over. They ended on Thursday right after the Rule 5 Draft that saw the Cincinnati Reds select outfielder Mark Payton (read all about him here). But there are still stories from the trip to San Diego worth exploring because while some players were signed and traded by Major League Baseball teams, a lot of the things discussed are still in the “let’s talk” phase of negotiations. And one of those rumors involves the New York Yankees looking at moving starting pitcher J.A. Happ according to Joel Sherman of The New York Post.

Last offseason the Reds were reportedly interested in bringing in Happ to help rebuild their rotation. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported back in January that Cincinnati made a bigger offer to the left-handed starter than the one he eventually took with the New York Yankees. Happ signed with New York for 2-years and $34M, with a third year that could vest for 2021 if he reached 27 starts of 165.0 innings during 2020 for $17M. The report did indicate, though, the Yankees deal was larger on the annual value than the one offered by the Reds, though.

There’s a bit of a difference between J.A. Happ before 2019 and before 2020. Last offseason he was entering free agency coming off of a year where he posted a 3.65 ERA in 177.2 innings with 193 strikeouts. Last season, after signing his deal, he posted a 4.91 ERA in 161.1 innings with 140 strikeouts. His walk rate remained mostly the same, but his strikeout rate fell off dramatically. And like nearly every pitcher in baseball in 2019, his home run rate also went up.

None of those things are ideal. And maybe they tell us something about the pitcher. Maybe the stuff is declining, which wouldn’t be surprising for a 36-year-old pitcher. His velocity did drop off a little bit from 2018 to 2019, going from 92.7 to 92.2 MPH.

But perhaps there’s something else at play, too. Sonny Gray was there for the Cincinnati Reds to acquire because his performance with the Yankees suffered when they changed how he had always pitched. And when the Reds and Derek Johnson helped him get back to the guy he used to be, he put together one of the best seasons he had ever had.

With J.A. Happ there is some difference in his pitch usage from 2018 to 2019. He threw fewer 4-seam fastballs, more 2-seasm fastballs, and more sliders. His slider usage was the highest it had been in a decade. The fastball usage, though, is in areas where he had been in previous seasons of his career.

Looking at the value of his pitches, the fastball has historically been his best pitch. The slider has only been a pitch that wasn’t below-average once dating back to 2013. That the Yankees had that pitch increase in usage by 37% from the previous year is interesting. His whiff rate on the 4-seam fastball increased, slightly, in 2019 over 2018 – but as noted above, he threw that pitch less. It also increased, slightly, on the 2-seam fastball. It did take a big hit from 2018 to 2019 on the slider, though. The swing-and-miss rate on the slider was at the lowest it had been since 2011. Perhaps a change in pitch usage could return his numbers to an area closer to where they were.

When the Reds reportedly made their offer to J.A. Happ they hadn’t yet traded for an extended Sonny Gray. And they hadn’t yet traded for Trevor Bauer. They hadn’t yet signed Mike Moustakas. There was a lot more money available to make such a move. Cincinnati has been in the market for pitchers like Madison Bumgarner even after all of those moves – so the money itself would seem to be there. The question is more about does it make sense to commit it to Happ. And to get even more into it, could the Yankees be willing to eat some salary depending on what kind of player the Reds would trade to them?

The Reds are still looking for an upgrade in their rotation. J.A. Happ doesn’t necessarily fill that role if he’s going to repeat exactly what he did in 2019. But if Cincinnati thinks that he can be corrected, much like they saw with Sonny Gray, this could be an option worth exploring – and like the deal with Gray, one that could provide upside.

Photo of J.A. Happ by Dr. Buddie and has been edited. License can be found here.

28 Responses

    • Justin

      He 37, coming off a down year for him, and costs $17m per. My guess is that if they pay nothing on his salary, they can get a prospect ranked 20-30, and if they pay half his salary they get a prospect ranked 10-30. I hope we wouldn’t give up more than that.

    • Charles Lackey

      Being almost 37 years old and a starting LHP if I owned a team I wouldn’t be interested in a multi year contract, perhaps a one year contract and negotiate the salary.

      • Doug Gray

        He’s not a free agent, so there’s no negotiating the length of the deal or the salary.

  1. Hotto4Votto

    Maybe the Yankees will send Frazier with him. I’d be interested then. Otherwise, just sign one of the 5th starter type candidates out there for much less money.

  2. DHud

    If I recall right, Gray has also pointed to the Yankees love of the slider as a reason for his struggles in NY. Makes you wonder what’s going on in that team’s analytics department

  3. JB

    They are projecting Kuechel at 3 years 39 mill. Why not just go after him at 13 mil a year. That’s in Cincys ballpark.

    • Doug Gray

      There’s certainly more than one option. I recall seeing last year, though, that the Reds eventually backed off of the Keuchel thing because they didn’t like something with the medical information they saw. Obviously that’s never going to come directly from a team – they can’t say that stuff. But that was the rumor that someone in the media put out there (I can’t recall who it was).

    • Scott C

      I like Keuchel as well. Evidently there wasn’t anything major wrong with his medicals. He din’t seem to have any issues with Atlanta.

      • Rodger

        Plus you get a “fresher” arm since he was off for half the season last year.

  4. Vin

    They coulda had Roark with less money then Happ. They coulda had Cole Hamels for less. They coulda had porciello for less. They coulda done lots for equal to our less. Yet they talk about homer bailey contract for a broken down Wheeler or a bad contract of old Happ. Let’s use our brains people. Rather see Relievers for $10 mil like dodgers doing than Happ. My way would actually cost less and bring in better pitching

  5. JB WV

    No. Not an upgrade from Mahle, probably a downgrade at this point in his career, which looks like it’s about over. Get a good ss that can hit and lets play ball.

  6. JB

    6 weeks ago they went into free agency looking to upgrade Catcher, Short, 2nd, Outfield and bullpen. 2nd is done. 8 weeks to pitchers and catchers report .

  7. Colorado Red

    No on Happ, too old, too costly.

  8. Linkster

    No thanks! Move on to another younger lefty and sign for 2 -3 years.

  9. Moses

    I think we can agree that the trade value of Happ’s current contract is less than zero (as is Price’s). And those are some of the most interesting potential trades. If the Reds are not returning another underwater contract (and I think that there’s only one of those currently), then it’s either the Yanks eating a portion of the contract or throwing in prospect(s). Just for discussion’s sake, how much money would the Yanks have to throw in to bring the value of Happ’s contract out of the red (small r)?

    • AllTheHype

      Have to think based on some FA SPs that have signed……that Happ’s AAMV would be in the $10M range, and that is for younger arms than Happ. So he’s overpaid, with negative value as you state. That would have to be equalized in some way in any trade. Most likely NYY would just eat the salary down and accept some low level return prospect.

      All depends on Reds scouting and if they think Happ is capable of rebound.

  10. Kap

    Gio gonzalez or bringing alex wood back for half of that money if not more seems more plausible.

    “And for that, I am out.”

  11. Ed

    Doug + RLN family- man. your insightful, exploratory posts cover a ton of ground, pose all sorts of interesting questions, and come packed with stats, analysis, and data. For Reds news, there is seriously no better resource at our disposal. Thanks for all your hard work!

    • RedInIND

      Thanks, Ed. That says it all for me, too.

  12. Sharon

    Don’t waste your money bring Puig Back and make the fans happy

  13. GhostRunner

    Baseball Reference has Price at 34 years old.

  14. Colorado Red

    With 27 starts, a 3rd year is added at 17M
    Still say NO

  15. Tom

    Puig back for 2 year, trade for Price, find two decent relievers and get a catcher.

    Language, my man. You get one warning.

  16. earmbrister

    Why in the world would we want Frazier? He DOESN’T have a position. Who would in start in front of?

  17. Steve Schoenbaechler

    For the kind of money he is getting, I wouldn’t get him. But, if some of the saberstats do meet up, I could understand trying to take a flyer on him.

    For a starter, I hesitate to pay extra for a lefty just for the sake of having a lefty.