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Why the Yankees Should Still Consider Happ Trade Following German’s Suspension

News broke on Thursday that New York Yankees pitcher Domingo German would be suspended 81 games following a September charge of domestic violence. Missing the rest of the regular season, as well as the team’s playoff run, German will miss the first 63 games of the 2020 season, being eligible to return June 5th when the Yankees take on the division-rival Tampa Bay Rays. This begs the question of whether the Yankees should still consider the Happ trade.

The right-hander pitched to an 18-4 record, leading the sport in winning percentage at.818, finishing the year with a 4.03 ERA, 110 ERA+, and 1.8 WAR (Wins Above Replacement).

Now with the Yankees’ brass aware of how long they’ll be without German, it’s imperative to wonder what the 2020 starting rotation is forecasted to look like come Opening Day.

According to ESPN’s depth charts, the projected five starters include the recently signed Gerritt Cole, James Paxton, Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, and J.A. Happ, the latter, a name of note in lieu of recent events. 

One, however, can’t ignore left-hander Jordan Montgomery, who will pitch in his first full season following Tommy John Surgery. Montgomery is only two years removed from a 2017 season which saw him pitch to a 3.88 ERA over 155 innings, striking out 144 batters, totaling 2.9 WAR, while finishing 6th in AL Rookie of the Year voting.

Should the team look to be careful with his innings, it’s no stretch to say Montgomery could begin the season in what looks to be baseball’s best bullpen on paper.

As for Happ, including him in their rotation would give them 3 left-handers, and while, yes, left-handed pitching almost always comes at a premium, opposing teams pry on familiarity.

Sportrac tells us that the team projects to have a payroll exceeding $243 million once the season begins, a mark, $35 million over Major League Baseball’s projected luxury tax threshold for the 2020 calendar year.

Happ is expected to make $17 million, so trading him for next to nothing as a means of acquiring some salary relief isn’t out of the question.

More importantly though, while Happ has been someone who has been durable, making, on average, 29 starts and pitching 168 innings since the start of the 2014 season, the Yankees can withstand losing his innings as well as German given their influx of young pitching, some of which have already toed the rubber at the big league level.

2020 could be the year where Luis Cessa gets his first extended look in the rotation. In 2019, Cessa appeared in 41 games, finishing the year with a 4.11 ERA, while striking out 75 over 81 innings pitched. 

While his results have been less-than-stellar as a starter – as evidenced by a 4.93 ERA over 19 starts – one can argue the left-hander, who averaged 94.7 mph on his fastball this past season, presents as viable an option as any to start.

Jonathan Loaisiga is another name who could see some early inning action come the 2020 season. 

While Cessa’s numbers out of the bullpen are more promising than his numbers while starting, the opposite can be said for Loaisiga.

In 30 innings pitched as a starter, Loaisiga has a modest 4.50 ERA, striking out 35 batters in that span (10.5 SO/9). Move him to the bullpen, and while the strikeout numbers improve (12 SO/9), so do numbers such as ERA (5.13) and HR’s (5 in 26.1 IP; 4 in 30 IP), but again, these are minute sample sizes, so take them for what they are.

And while the early returns from Cessa and Loaisiga have been less-than-stellar, with each pitcher owning an ERA+ of 97 and 91 respectively, Happ’s 2019 struggles ring more concerning than the results from these two.

Pitching to a 4.91 ERA, Happ finished the year with an ERA+ of 90 over 161.1 innings pitched, 8.9 H/9, and a career-worst 1.9 HR/9. To add insult to injury, Happ’s strikeout numbers dropped off as well, with the lefty finishing 2019 with 7.8 SO/9, his lowest such mark since the 2016 season.