Happ signs 3-year deal to rejoin Blue Jays
Left-hander was 7-2 with 1.85 ERA in 11 starts for Pirates down stretch in 2015
TORONTO -- J.A. Happ wasn't necessarily expecting a reunion with his former team when free agency began earlier this month, but when the Blue Jays aggressively went after him it made for an easy decision.
Happ rejoined the Blue Jays on Friday night following a one-year absence by agreeing to a three-year, $36 million deal. Happ's arrival marks the first major addition to a team that won the American League East in 2015 but faces a lot of turnover in its rotation.
The 33-year-old Happ experienced a playoff run of his own this year by going 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA in 11 starts for the Pirates, but he never got to enjoy that in Toronto. The Blue Jays fell short in each of his three seasons with the club, and now there's some unfinished business to take care of.
"When I played in Toronto, the whole time I was there, it was like, 'If we could make it to the playoffs this city would be nuts,'" said Happ, who previously pitched for the Blue Jays from 2012-14. "Watching that from afar it was awesome to see from those guys. And I watched the playoff run in the second half and they just went off, that was a really good team.
"That's what we're trying to hopefully do these next few years is repeat that, but it was definitely fun to watch. I'm happy for the guys that they got to experience that."
Happ's deal was surprising for a lot of reasons -- but none bigger than the fact that his first tenure with the club wasn't exactly smooth sailing. Despite being an extremely polite and mild-mannered individual, drama seemed to find him at every turn during the course of his Blue Jays career.
When Happ was first acquired from Houston prior to the 2012 non-waiver Trade Deadline, he arrived without a defined role despite having a proven track record as a starter. The following spring, he didn't have a starting job until left-hander Ricky Romero faltered late in camp.
Then in 2014, Happ lost his spot in the rotation after a rocky Spring Training. He later rejoined the staff and went on to have a strong year, only to be traded to the Mariners that offseason for left fielder Michael Saunders. Despite the previous turmoil, Happ said he didn't have any second thoughts about coming back to the city.
"It wasn't difficult," Happ said during a conference call with reporters. "Going into the offseason, I was open to all 30 teams. We wanted to explore everything and see where there were fits. We were happy there was a lot of interest and we were really happy Toronto was being aggressive.
"I really enjoyed the people, working, going to the field. That's everybody involved with the whole thing at the field, not just the players and the coaches. Everybody I really enjoyed there and watching from afar, seeing what this team did last year, it's fun to watch this team and I wanted to come back and be a part of that."
The $36 million might seem like a lot for a pitcher who has never tossed more than 172 innings in a season and has a 4.13 career ERA, but that's the going rate for an experienced arm that didn't require Draft-pick compensation. There also was a sense of "urgency" from Toronto interim general manager Tony LaCava to get something done quickly.
Toronto is preparing for the departure of David Price to free agency, and veteran lefty Mark Buehrle is not expected to return. That leaves two glaring holes in the rotation and almost no depth at the upper levels of the Minor League system from which to work.
The Blue Jays have since added Happ, traded for right-hander Jesse Chavez and re-signed Marco Estrada. The current rotation projects to be Marcus Stroman, Estrada, R.A. Dickey and Happ, while Chavez, Drew Hutchison and, to a lesser extent, Aaron Sanchez, will compete for the final spot.
"Generally, that's a hard thing to get any time, let alone that many guys in one offseason," LaCava said of starting pitching. "We're going to continue to look, but we feel like we're off to a good start with bringing back Marco. J.A. is a really significant signing for us and then being able to get Jesse as well.
"There was a bit of an urgency to do it. We identified the guys we felt fit what we were looking to do and, fortunately, we were able to get some things done."