Detroit Tigers Free Agency: J.A. Happ
As the 2021 season looms on the horizon, the Detroit Tigers still need to add starting pitching depth. J.A. Happ is a veteran option that could provide the Tigers with quality innings.
In an interview this week, Al Avila spoke candidly about the team’s need to add another starting pitching. The Detroit Tigers plan to utilize both a five and six-man rotation for parts of the season, depending on health and the vigorousness of the schedule at the time. The details and timing of the season are unclear, but it will undoubtedly be a longer season than the 60 game sprint we saw in 2020.
On paper, the Tigers have a multitude of starting pitching options. The starting rotation should be anchored by Matt Boyd, who hopes to bounce back from a ridiculously-long stretch of serving up too many home runs, and 2020 pseudo-ace Spencer Turnbull, who has yet to top 150 innings in a season in his career. Rookies Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal both showed flashes of greatness in 2020, but neither has topped 125 innings in a year, and it is hard to envision the Tigers stretching them much further than that now.
Fellow youngster Matt Manning should be on track to make his MLB debut at some point in 2021, but should not be counted on for big innings after a forearm strain put him out of commission to finish last season. The Detroit Tigers have high hopes for recently signed Jose Ureña, but his performance over the past few seasons inspires little confidence. Michael Fulmer is a bit of unknown after he returned from Tommy John surgery as one of the worst pitchers in the league last year. Finally, Daniel Norris and Tyler Alexander seem destined for bullpen roles after spending most of 2020 operating behind openers.
Again, it seems like there are several options right now. However, aside from Turnbull, projecting a full, successful season for any other starter would be pretty optimistic at this point. Avila’s comments echo the sentiment that the team needs another consistent starting pitching options to add to the collection of unknowns. Former Yankee J.A. Happ could be an option to fill this role well.
J.A. Happ has been a solid MLB starter for the better part of a decade now. After finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting in 2009, he was shipped to the Astros in 2010, along with our old friend Anthony Gose, for Roy Oswalt. Happ spent a few seasons in Houston before ultimately pitching for the Blue Jays, Mariners, Pirates, and most-recently the Yankees. He has performed at least adequately in almost every spot he’s been, even earning an All-Star bid in 2018.
Happ is coming off a bit of an up-and-down tenure with the Yankees after joining the team in 2018 as part of a trade deadline deal. Happ was a lifesaver for the Yankees down the stretch, going 7-0 with a 2.52 ERA. He lost his magic in 2019, as the fans grew impatient with his tendency to give up ill-timed home runs. His 35 home runs allowed ranked third in the American League, one spot below Matt Boyd.
In the shortened 2020 season, Happ seemed to find himself again and regain some of the confidence that allowed him to be so successful in 2018. Happ started nine games for the Yankees last year and, despite a few clunkers to start the year, he was brilliant down the stretch, helping to carry their injury-riddled squad to the playoffs. He cut back slightly on home runs allowed, thanks in part to his well-located sinker/changeup combination.
Despite celebrating his 38th birthday in October, Happ proved that he still has plenty left in the tank to be a solid starting pitcher for at least one more season. His velocity dipped slightly to 91 mph on his fastball last season, but he still had success with the pitch. His hard-hit rate, expected batting average and expected slugging all ranked well above average.
The Yankees declined Happ’s 1 year, 17 million dollar option, an unsurprising move considering the financial landscape of the game currently. MLB Trade Rumors projects Happ will receive a new deal in the vicinity of 6 million dollars for one year. For some stability and a strong veteran presence in the rotation, the price could be right for the Detroit Tigers.