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Back with Toronto, Happ excited to help club

'Hopefully we can replicate that and hopefully take it further,' lefty says of Blue Jays' 2015 postseason run
MLB.com @gregorMLB

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- J.A. Happ's first foray into free agency didn't last very long, as the Blue Jays came out aggressive and early to bring one of their former pitchers back into the fold.

Happ made his return during the offseason by signing a three-year contract worth $36 million. The veteran left-hander became one of the first prominent free agents to go off the board when he inked his deal on Nov. 27 in what could be considered one of the biggest surprise signings of the winter.

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- J.A. Happ's first foray into free agency didn't last very long, as the Blue Jays came out aggressive and early to bring one of their former pitchers back into the fold.

Happ made his return during the offseason by signing a three-year contract worth $36 million. The veteran left-hander became one of the first prominent free agents to go off the board when he inked his deal on Nov. 27 in what could be considered one of the biggest surprise signings of the winter.

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The 33-year-old was traded away just one year earlier in a deal with Seattle for Michael Saunders. There was hardly any speculation about a possible reunion, but the two sides got together quickly and worked something out as the Blue Jays began life without David Price and Mark Buehrle in the rotation.

"Right off the bat, we had a lot of good interest, and it can certainly be nerve-wracking at times," Happ admitted of the process. "Once things started picking up with a few teams, especially with the Blue Jays, we sat down and said, 'This is a place we feel good about, feel comfortable. We want to not look back,' and checked off all those boxes.

"Just a lot of excitement coming back, watching the run that they had in the second half and playoffs last year, [seeing] the city respond the way it did and the country, and it's something that I would like to be a part of, so hopefully we can replicate that and hopefully take it further."

Happ always seems to be tinkering with his delivery, but something did appear to click during the second half of last season, when he went 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA in 11 starts for the Pirates. One storyline out of Pittsburgh was Happ adjusting his arm slot, and that's a familiar narrative for Blue Jays fans because it's something he changed during his time in Toronto as well.

Video: Happ discusses his return to Toronto on Hot Stove

The Blue Jays got Happ to lower his arm slot midway through the 2014 season, and at the time, it brought pretty strong returns. But in Pittsburgh, he went back to an elevated angle. The regular adjustments might seem a little bizarre to an outside observer, but for Happ, it's all about comfort, and the angle was one of several reasons behind the strong finish with Pittsburgh.

"I've toyed with it over the years," said Happ, who previously pitched for Toronto from 2012-14. "When I was here, I started to drop down a little bit, and I went back up a little bit last year.

"I think the goal for me is to stay on target, drive toward home plate, not falling off toward third, and staying over the rubber where the balance point is good for me, too. When I'm able to do those two things, I get a better angle on the ball, and maybe makes it help it seem a little smaller. Angle, I think, helped me a lot last year."

Happ is expected to begin the year as Toronto's fourth starter, and he'll be the lone lefty on the staff. Durability is something the Blue Jays desperately needed from a rotation that had plenty of question marks heading into the offseason and could feature a pair a young arms in Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez. From that standpoint, Happ has been a proven commodity.

Toronto's philosophy when replacing former No. 1 starter Price was that the club didn't necessarily need to add a prototypical ace because of its potent offense. With the league's top lineup, pitchers that can eat up a lot of innings and consistently keep their team in games were priority over paying more for a pitcher who could come in and single-handedly take over a game.

"They told me the guys they were targeting and who they thought maybe they could get; I thought he would be a perfect fit," manager John Gibbons said of the front office and Happ. "He comes out and keeps the game in check, which I've always seen him do. We've got a big offense -- he should win a lot of games. I think he was a little snakebit last year in Seattle, he didn't get a lot of run support in his games, but that shouldn't be a problem here."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays, J.A. Happ