Cashman sees Happ as favorite for 5th starter

Yanks GM talks rotation, Andújar preparing for 1B, OF this spring

January 24th, 2020

NEW YORK -- The Yankees believe that their rotation is set for the upcoming season, with general manager Brian Cashman telling the YES Network on Thursday that he envisions veteran left-hander as the favorite to serve as the No. 5 starter.

Cashman gauged trade interest in Happ during the Winter Meetings in December, but the Yankees were unable to find a suitable match, coming off a campaign in which the 37-year-old was 12-8 with a 4.91 ERA in 31 games (30 starts).

“We're extremely confident [in the rotation], especially our top four,” Cashman said on the "YES Hot Stove" program. “I do think that Happ is going to even be better for us than he was in the first half of last year. I think you'll see more of the second-half Happ, so we look forward to him proving that with us in 2020.”

The home run ball was a significant issue for Happ, whose 34 homers allowed were tied for sixth most in the Majors, but he showed encouraging signs by limiting opponents to a 1.65 ERA over 27 1/3 September innings. Happ’s final outing of the year was a five-inning appearance out of the bullpen on Sept. 25, as he did not pitch in the postseason.

Happ is set to earn $17 million this season and has a vesting option for 2021 at the same dollar amount that would kick in if he hurls 165 innings or makes 27 starts in ‘20. Other potential candidates for the No. 5 rotation slot include Jordan Montgomery, top prospect Deivi Garcia, Jonathan Loaisiga, Michael King and Nick Nelson.

“I don't have any concerns on any of our starting pitchers, for the most part,” Cashman said. “Whether it's Gerrit Cole, whether it's Luis Severino, [James] Paxton, [Masahiro] Tanaka -- if they're healthy, they're going to be very special, because they're that gifted. They all can essentially be a No. 1 that day when the ball's in their hand, and the only thing that is going to prevent that from happening is if health takes them offline for a period of time.”

Cashman added that, with third base viewed as Gio Urshela’s job to lose, has been instructed to prepare for time at first base and the outfield this spring. Manager Aaron Boone visited with Andújar recently in the Dominican Republic, where that conversation took place. Andújar, who turns 25 in March, was the Yankees’ Opening Day third baseman in 2019.

“[Boone] opened up the conversation about versatility, getting a chance to get a first-base glove on and then an outfielder's glove on, too -- just in the event that he doesn't push through at third base,” Cashman said. “He has [Minor League] options, he can go to Triple-A, but is there a role on the Major League club in a different capacity?

“That bat is special, his makeup is off the charts and obviously he's hungry to reprove himself. He's going have to do that, because he's coming back from a [right] shoulder injury, so we're going to take the opportunity to see some versatility, see his health and allow it to play out.”