The Yankees entered free agency ardently opposed to giving J.A Happ a three-year deal. The price of other starters forced Brian Cashman to give in.
The best organizations in baseball understand free agency plans can’t be written in stone. The Yankees didn’t want to give J.A. Happ a three-year contract, but the market for starting pitchers this winter proved to be more expensive than Brian Cashman anticipated.
That’s why Happ is returning to the Bronx on a three-year contract. For the record, this isn’t a bad deal for the Yankees. Happ was terrific down the stretch for Aaron Boone’s club last season. He went 7-0 with an ERA of 2.69 in 11 starts. No one should rationally expect him to duplicate that performance moving forward, but it shows that he’s still got plenty of juice left in his left arm.
The obvious concern is just how much juice is left. Handing a three-year contract to a pitcher who is already 36 years of age is fraught with peril. The Yankees should get decent value in the first year or two of the deal, but it’s likely going to be an overpay in 2021. Even so, that’s the price of acquiring a quality starter this winter.
The Yankees have certainly experienced the market the hard way. Cashman’s initial target in free agency was Patrick Corbin. As it turned out, he wasn’t even in the ballpark for the talented southpaw. The Yankees wanted to give him a five-year deal topping out at somewhere between $100 and $105 million. The Nationals blew that deal away by giving him a six-year contract worth $140 million. Obviously, the Yankees were not prepared to pay that sort of premium.
Depending on who you believe, Nathan Eovaldi may or may not have been the club’s next target. Even if he was, it’s reasonable to believe the Yankees were not going to approach the 4-year, $67.5 million contract he received from the Red Sox. Eovaldi may stay healthy enough to make that contract a relative bargain, but his history of arm trouble makes it risky. Cashman and company clearly weren’t comfortable taking on that type of risk.
That left the Yankees with a difficult choice. They could either give up meaningful prospects and/or young Major Leaguers like Miguel Andujar and Estevan Florial to acquire an ace via trade, or they could mildly overpay Happ.
It’s clear Cashman at least gauged the market for big-time arms like Corey Kluber, Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard, but he couldn’t find a deal that made sense for the organization. Cashman could have tried to wait out the trade market to see if prices dropped after the Winter Meetings, but Happ wasn’t going to wait that long.
That’s precisely why Cashman chose to minimize the risk and gave in to Happ’s demand for a third year on his contract. It’s not the perfect solution for the Yankees, but it’s another example of Cashman’s pragmatism. That philosophy has served the team well for quite some time.