Revisiting the Happ Deal

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Needing a win in the worst way after a demoralizing and destructive 14-1 blowout against Boston, the Jays turned to J.A. Happ last night for a quasi-season saver.  For a team that is above .500 and only a few games out of a playoff spot it’s hard to call any game in July a must-win, but that is what last night’s game felt like.  Lucky for all of us, Happ delivered a gem and the Jays picked up a much needed victory.

Unfortunately the words “Happ” and “Gem” are very rarely spoken in the same sentence. 

It’s been nearly two years to the day since the Blue Jays acquired Happ in a massive 10-player deal on July 20, 2012.  In his tenure with the team he has been described in many ways, but the most fitting word for him has to be “erratic”.  Happ has been healthy and he has been injured.  He has pitched out of the bullpen and he has pitched as a starter.  He has been incredibly dominant and he has been abysmally terrible. 

Take a three start stretch from June 15 – June 26 as an example:

June 15 at Baltimore – 6 IP, 1 ER, 7 H, 0 BB, 6 K

June 21 at Cincinnati – 4 IP, 7 ER, 7 H, 4 BB, 5 K

June 26 vs Chicago – 7.2 IP, 0 ER, 4 H, 2 BB, 8 K

He is as up and down as a toilet seat, and that doesn’t just describe this year, but the past two calendar years since the trade.  

So how have the other parts of that trade held up since July of 2012?  Let’s find out.

 Jays acquire: J.A. Happ, Brandon Lyon, David Carpenter

Happ: Since being acquired he has gone 16-14, 4.58 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 191 K: 96 BB, 91 ERA+

Lyon: Pitched well for the Jays in the two months he was here, 4-0, 2.88 ERA, 28 K.  Now out of the majors.

Carpenter: Was pretty awful in the 3 games he appeared in, and was dealt to Boston with John Farrell.  Now in Atlanta where he has developed into a very effective reliever with the Braves.

Astros acquire: Francisco Cordero, Ben Francisco, Joe Musgrove, David Rollins, Asher Wojciechowski, Kevin Comer, Carlos Perez

Cordero and Francisco: Basically salary dumps by the Jays.  Neither did much in Houston or has done much since.

Musgrove: 21 year old has put up a 3.53 ERA this season in A- level ball.

Rollins: 24 years old, demoted from AAA to AA to begin this season, where he has a 3.45 ERA and 1.15 WHIP

Wojciechowski: 25 year old was considered the key piece of the deal.  Currently 0-2 with a 7.14 ERA in AAA after starting the season on the DL.  Pitched decently well in AAA last year.

Comer: 21 years old.  Many Jays fans were upset when he was included later in the deal.  Currently in A, with a 4.50 ERA and 1.48 WHIP

Perez: 23 year old catcher, currently in AAA with a .254 average and .701 OPS

Verdict

First off, let’s call a spade and spade and remove Lyon, Carpenter, Francisco, and Cordero from the equation.  This trade was really about the five minor leaguers for J.A. Happ as far as I’m concerned.  There was no question that none of those four veterans would be back in Toronto or Houston.

As mentioned earlier in this post, Happ has been anything but consistent, a trait that has to be considered the most frustrating aspect of a pitcher.  But it’s the flashes of brilliance, like May 25 against Oakland, June 26 against Chicago, and last night against Boston that keep the Jays somewhat invested in him.  As a fifth starter I guess that’s all you can really expect.

So the real question becomes did Toronto give up too much for a fifth starter? 

By no means do I consider myself a minor league prospect expert, so this should be taken lightly, but to this point I would be inclined to say no, Toronto did not give up too much.  Only Wojciechowski is on Houston’s 40-man roster, meaning Perez, despite his AAA status, isn’t realistically near the big leagues.  Plus, with the development of many of Houston’s other young pitchers (Keuchel, Cosart, McHugh) and with his injury and rough season thus far, it might not be a stretch to say that Woj has dropped down the depth chart.

The three other pitching prospects are still buried in the low levels of the minors, so it’s impossible to say when (or if) they will ever progress.  But seeing Rollins demoted from AAA to AA and Musgrove and Comer both struggling in single-A can’t be a good sign.  Yes both of them are still only 21 and have a lot of time to develop, but for context consider that Marcus Stroman (23) and Aaron Sanchez (21) are both with the Blue Jays now, and Daniel Norris (21) is in AA.

So at this point in time, I am giving a slight edge to Toronto.  If Happ can toss a few more outings like he did last night, that edge might open wider.

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