How J.A. Happ’s Signing Helps/Hurts the Rays

By RaysRadio

When J.A. Happ signed with Toronto last week for three years and $36 million, it brought back to mind an interview I did with former Rays and now Los Angeles Dodgers President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman. In it, he essentially said if we (meaning the Rays) have to depend upon the free agent market for starting pitching, then we are doomed.

No knock on J.A. Happ, but the way the market evolves continues to bear that out. While Happ had a terrific run with Pittsburgh after the trading deadline (7–2 1.85 in 11 starts following a deal involving Seattle), the career numbers for the 33-year-old are average. He’s a 62–61 career pitcher with a 4.13 ERA and a 4.20 FIP. The most that Happ has pitched in a season was 172.0 innings (last year). His WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) last year was 1.267 (career 1.367), was his lowest since his best season in 2009. Happ’s best stretches have come in the National League. Yet Happ received a three-year 36 million dollar deal. That is what the market bears for starting pitching these days, which is good and bad for the Rays.

The good side is that if you have a surplus, and there are arguments for and against this for the Rays, there’s a market for young, controllable pitching. Teams that can’t afford to complete a rotation by paying $10 plus million per season on multiple pitchers will have no choice but to go the trade route. In those types of deals, you can get multiple players to fill various needs and holes within the organization.

The Rays used the trade market to fill a majority of their current rotation, including Chris Archer, Drew Smyly, Jake Odorizzi and Erasmo Ramirez all came from various deals the organization has made. In most of these deals, multiple players were received.

That said, the bad side of this is that the market for starting pitching forces you to do not a good job, but a terrific job with pro scouting and minor league development, drafting, or a combination thereof. As mentioned in a previous blog, Blake Snell will be the first home grown starter (2011) since Matt Moore joined the Rays out of the 2007 draft (the same draft that produced David Price). That’s part of the reason the Rays were sub-.500 in 2014 and 2015 after six straight winning seasons.

Now in addition to Snell, Jake Faria (2011), Taylor Guerrieri (2011), German Marquez (international sign 2011) and Jaime Schultz (2013) are close to being factors with the Rays. However, it also puts pressure on to continue to have plenty of starting pitching prospects in the funnel, because unless the market changes, the cost of starting pitching is going nowhere but up.

-Neil Solondz