NEW YORK -- Having pitched in the American League East for a considerable portion of his career, J.A. Happ thought that he had a good idea of how the Yankees operated behind closed doors. He knew Brett Gardner from their time together in the Arizona Fall League, and Carsten Sabathia's
NEW YORK -- Having pitched in the American League East for a considerable portion of his career, J.A. Happ thought that he had a good idea of how the Yankees operated behind closed doors. He knew Brett Gardner from their time together in the Arizona Fall League, and Carsten Sabathia's reputation as a teammate and competitor is legendary among his peers.
Happ's experience in his two-plus months in the Bronx exceeded all expectations, and the left-hander entered free agency anxious for an opportunity to return. That feeling was mutual, and with a new two-year, $34 million contract in hand, Happ is excited to return and help anchor the club's rotation.
"I certainly enjoyed my time in New York, the last couple of months of the 2018 season," Happ said. "It was a big reason why I felt comfortable going back. At this point in my career, I've taken a lot of things into account, but the chance to win was high on that list. I feel like this was a place that you come to the ballpark to win every day. I really appreciated that."
Happ's contract includes an $17 million option for 2021, which will vest if he makes 27 starts or completes 165 innings in the second year of the deal. Happ said that he appreciated the opportunity to "bet on myself a little bit," returning to a clubhouse where he felt instantly comfortable following his July 26 acquisition from the Blue Jays.
"Feeling the vibe of that clubhouse and the veteran leadership that it had, as well as a lot of very talented young players who are playing the game the right way and putting in the work and anxious to get better, I think it was just a good combination," Happ said. "Then, you add the coaching staff to that and everything that surrounds playing in New York and the stage, it makes it exciting. That's something that stuck with me going into this offseason."
Happ said that while he has not been closely tracking the Hot Stove rumor mill, he was aware of Manny Machado's Wednesday visit to Yankee Stadium and would be thrilled if the right-handed slugger lands in pinstripes.
"I would certainly welcome that, especially as a left-hander," Happ said. "He's done it for the last several years, and you see the all-around numbers and you see the defense and the arm strength. He's an all-around superstar type of player, so to get any player like that on your team, that would be exciting."
The 36-year-old Happ fielded interest from the Astros, Blue Jays, Phillies, Rangers and Reds in recent weeks. With New York, Happ was 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA in 11 regular-season outings, and he won his first five starts.
"He was a performer; took the ball every five days," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "He was a competitor, came as advertised and a real pro. He had a veteran presence within that clubhouse, knew exactly what was necessary and brought it every five days in the most competitive division in all of baseball and the world. He checks all the boxes on that side of it."
Happ's season ended on a sour note as he recorded just six outs against the Red Sox in Game 1 of the AL Division Series. J.D. Martinez hit a three-run homer over the Green Monster to highlight Boston's first-inning rally, and the Red Sox added two more runs in the third inning.
"I certainly don't need to downplay the importance of a playoff game," Happ said. "You go back and you look at it, and J.D. Martinez hit a pitch that not a lot of guys hit. He beat me on that pitch, and that's all I can really say about that, but I'm not really here to defend myself. I feel like my work stands for itself. I'm just anxious to try to go out there and produce."
Overall, Happ was 17-6 with a 3.65 ERA in 31 starts for Toronto and New York, setting career highs in strikeouts (193), strikeouts per nine innings ratio (9.78) and strikeout rate (26.3 percent). He held opponents to a .223 batting average and earned the first All-Star nod of his 12-year career.
By retaining Happ, the Yankees have achieved their stated objective of adding two premium starting pitchers this offseason. New York acquired James Paxton from the Mariners in November, adding the left-hander to a rotation that also projects to feature Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka and Sabathia.
"I think it was a really strong, smart move," Happ said. "I know Pax; I played with him for a couple months in Seattle. The kid's got all the potential in the world and threw a no-hitter last year. He's going to be exciting. I think New York is going to fall in love with him, and I think he's going to enjoy that stage."
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.