The Yankees needed to sign J.A. Happ even if it meant going to a third year, which they kind of did. After passing on Patrick Corbin, the best pitcher on the free-agent market, who would have only cost money, Happ became the next-best pitcher on the free-agent market, who also would only cost money. Now the Yankees have a complete five-man rotation with three lefties in it.
Happ was the perfect trade deadline acquisition. No, he didn’t pitch against the Red Sox in the biggest series of the regular season in August due to a rare illness, and no, he didn’t pitch well in his only start in the ALDS (Game 1) against the Red Sox, the team he was supposed to be able to dominate as he was advertised to Yankees fans throughout July. But he did go unbeaten for the Yankees in the final two months of the season, helping them avoid a complete collapse in the standings and clinch the first wild card. (Again, I wish they had lost out on the first wild card or at least lost to the A’s in the wild-card game to avoid the result of the ALDS.)
The addition of Happ fills out the rotation along with Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and CC Sabathia. Yes, there are lingering health questions about Tanaka’s elbow that have been going on for over four years and Paxton has never really pitched a full season in his career and Sabathia is guaranteed at least one trip to the disabled list in 2019 and now a 36-year-old joins that group. But what team doesn’t have health questions surrounding their starting pitching? With pitching comes the risk of injury and the Yankees’ risk of injury with their pitching is no better or worse than the rest of the league.
I wanted Happ back and I thought it made sense to have him back, given his career success, his history against the Red Sox (minus the ALDS) and the AL East and the fact that he has been as durable as any pitcher at his age with the amount of work his left arm has seen. (Knock on every piece of wood you can find.) Re-signing Happ after not wanting to sign Corbin was the right move and I’m not scared of Happ’s age or the diminishing spin rate on his fastball (at least not yet). What I’m scared of is that the Yankees will add in an elite reliever whether it’s David Robertson, Andrew Miller or Zach Britton and a utility guy like Neil Walker and call it an offseason. That’s what scares me.
The Yankees are in a championship window. They are either in their second or third year of it depending on how you view their improbable 2017 postseason run. The 2017 Yankees weren’t good enough despite holding a 3-2 lead in the ALCS before losing Games 6 and 7. The 2018 Yankees weren’t good enough despite replacing Chase Headley, Starlin Castro and a worthless DH spot with Miguel Andujar, Gleyber Torres and Giancarlo Stanton and winning 100 games. Now the possibility of the Yankees running the same not-good-enough-team from 2018 back out there for 2019 and expecting a different result.
The league is going to suck again in 2019. It might actually suck more than it did in 2018 with more and more teams tanking and trying to duplicate the Cubs and Astros model. It used to take a special season to win 100 games, but there was nothing special about the 2018 Yankees and the 2019 Yankees shouldn’t have any trouble reaching the 100-win mark even if they didn’t add another piece to their team. You can only plan for the regular season and build the best possible team for the 162-game schedule. The postseason can’t be planned for. You can’t plan for Nathan Eovaldi to finally realize his potential after a career of disappointment or for Steve Pearce to become the most feared hitter in a lineup with the top two MVP candidates or for Jackie Bradley Jr. to go from hanging on to a career in the majors to a three-run home run machine and you can’t envision going into the postseason with your bullpen as your biggest weakness and suddenly have no-namers putting up zeros as if that’s all they had ever done. The 2018 Red Sox reminded us how big of a crapshoot the postseason is even if you win 108 games in the regular season. It can’t be planned for. Only the path to it can.
Right now, the Yankees have done a good enough job planning their path to the postseason that it would take a season decimated by injuries for them to not get there. Because the American League is going to suck as much if not more than it did in 2018, you can pencil in the Yankees, Red Sox, Astros and Indians right now, and take your pick on which mediocre team will serve as the one-and-done second wild card.
Happ was a necessary addition and the Yankees are better today and than they were before they brought him back. They are good enough to get to the postseason, but I’m not sure they are good enough to win the postseason.
Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are still free agents and they are still both 26 years old and either in the prime or have yet to enter it. The Yankees could go out and sign both (they have the money to even though they have somehow tricked Yankees fans into thinking they don’t) and create the best lineup in baseball to go along with one of the best rotations in baseball. Add in Robertson or Miller or Britton (or two of the three since they will end up trading for someone like that anyway in July) and while these high-priced signings might not guarantee a championship, they would put the Yankees in the best possible position for one in this current window.
The end of this coming season will be a decade since the last Yankees championship, and if the team wastes another year of this window, I’m not sure when the drought will end. The offseason can’t stop with Happ.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!
The book details my life as a Yankees fan, growing up watching Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams through my childhood and early adulthood and the shift to now watching Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, Aaron Judge and others become the latest generation of Yankees baseball. It’s a journey through the 2017 postseason with flashbacks to games and moments from the Brian Cashman era.
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