JA Happ has the inside track on the fifth spot in the Yankees’ starting rotation, but it’s clear Brian Cashman isn’t convinced he’ll win the job.
If the MLB regular season began tomorrow it’s obvious that JA Happ would be No. 5 starter in the Yankees rotation. There’s a long way between now and Opening Day though. New York’s front office is not convinced that Happ will stay in the rotation all season long.
GM Brian Cashman’s most recent comments about Happ were a very tepid vote of confidence for the veteran southpaw. He expressed “extreme confidence” in the rotation on the whole, but quickly followed that up with the qualification that he was “especially” confident about the top four spot. Assuming they remain healthy, Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton should form a strong foundation for one of baseball’s best rotations.
Most MLB teams would let that embarrassment of riches overshadow any concerns about the identity of their fifth starter. Overlooking anything isn’t in Cashman’s DNA though. He’s keenly aware that the time may come for him to upgrade Happ’s spot in the rotation.
If the 37-year-old starter pitches like he did during the 2019 regular season he might not stay in the rotation very long. He struggled mightily to prevent opposing hitters from hitting the ball out of the ballpark. The 34 home runs he gave up during the regular season were the sixth most allowed in the majors.
Yankees officials are hopeful that Happ can bounce back from last year’s ugly performance. His work during September and into the postseason does give team officials some reason for optimism. His stuff was good enough to justify Aaron Boone awarding him three postseason appearances. They all came in relief, but his 3.2 innings pitched with just one earned run left a positive taste in his manager’s mouth heading into the offseason.
If Happ does struggle early, expect the Yankees to immediately give a younger player the chance to take his spot. Jordan Montgomery flashed solid potential for the team before missing almost all of 2019 due to injury. Deivi Garcia shot through the minors last season and could work his way onto the big league roster in Spring Training. Michael King doesn’t have dominating stuff, but he specializes in keeping hitters off-balance with a terrific off speed arsenal. Any of those three young hurlers could grab the No. 5 starting spot for their own next season.
The only certainty is that Happ is the favorite for the job right now. He’ll get a solid opportunity to win a spot in Boone’s rotation during Spring Training. The Yankees aren’t convinced he can handle the workload though. Cashman is very open to the idea that someone else will round out his rotation in 2020.