You know who’s presumably got two thumbs and is in a no-win situation? J.A. Happ.
After the Cruz signing, and probably the Seager extension, the trade for J.A. Happ has gotten the most pub in Seattle. It makes sense – and in a way, even the trade makes sense – but I don’t think there’s any way this thing ends well for Happ in Seattle.
We’re all abundantly aware that Michael Saunders was the price to obtain Happ. Saunders was deemed – by the organization – to be too much of an injury risk to keep around. He promptly required knee surgery at the beginning of Spring Training this year, but it looks like he’ll nevertheless be ready for the start of the regular season. For some reason, I doubt that’s the last time we’re going to hear about Saunders missing time or going under the knife.
Anyway, the fans were up in arms over the move. We all saw what Saunders was capable of – when healthy – and it seemed like too much to give up for what we got in return. Happ is a middle-of-the-road innings-eater in the same vein as Chris Young, Joe Saunders, Jeremy Bonderman, Aaron Harang, and Kevin Millwood, to name a few. It seems like every year, the Mariners are in the market for one of these re-treads, and every year we get a new experience. Chris Young was the epitome of Best Case Scenario and Jeremy Bonderman was probably at the opposite end of the spectrum. You don’t bring these guys in and give them spots in your rotation for their upside, because at this point there IS no upside. Chris Young was pretty solid last year, but he’s still far from the ideal (and, besides that, there’s a reason why it took him so long before he caught on with a ballclub). You employ these guys as injury insurance, or as insurance against one of your younger (higher upside) pitchers not quite being ready for primetime.
Either way, no one WANTS to employ a J.A. Happ. But, it makes good sense, if he can keep you in enough ballgames and give you something close to a .500 record in his starts.
Happ’s start to this spring has been less than ideal. He’s made three starts and all he’s really accomplished is getting his pitch count up into the 80s. Obviously, no one in his right mind should be focused to intently on the numbers one puts up in Spring Training, but it’s just more ammo to throw onto the fire in the case against Happ ever being a fan favorite. What’s most important is what happens in the regular season, but what right do we have to be excited about his regular season performance, based on his past experience?
The hope – and probably the Best Case Scenario – with J.A. Happ is that he’s able to turn in a Safeco Joe-esque one-year career with the Mariners. Puts up decent-to-good numbers at home, and is mostly a trainwreck on the road. While it’s evident that these types of nothing pitchers are able to extend their careers by pitching half their games in Seattle, it’s still putting a Band Aid over a severed foot. Eventually, they start struggling at home as well as on the road, and when that happens they’re effectively useless.
I’m calling it right now: J.A. Happ will cause more harm than good. The team will be well-served to demote him to the bullpen or DFA him altogether, because I have no doubt in my mind that he’s clearly the sixth best starting pitcher in this organization. Hell, at this point I wonder if Erasmo Ramirez is even better than Happ! Here’s to hoping the Mariners realize this before he costs us our shot at the postseason.