Before he dominated the Mets on Saturday afternoon, J.A. Happ took a shellacking from his own boss.
As the Yankees and Mets prepared to take the field for this latest Subway Series tilt, one captured by the Yankees, 2-1, to end their seven-game losing streak, Brian Cashman unloaded on Happ in response to the veteran left-hander’s recent insinuations that the Yankees were manipulating their starting rotation to prevent Happ from vesting his $17-million option for next season.
“He did not have a good season last year. He had a poor season last year, and he’s gotten out of the gate not very successful for us this year,” Cashman said of Happ, who threw 7 ⅓ shutout innings, allowing just three hits while striking out five and walking none, in his first appearance since August 5. “We’re certainly hopeful he can step up and pitch well for us today and help us win a game, but it’s pure baseball.
“You get a chance to play more with positive performance and you get the chance to play less with negative performance. It’s as simple as that. We’re not trying to complicate anything. Our job is to try to win baseball games and put the best players out there on the field under those circumstances, nothing more, nothing less.”
Happ, who posted a 4.91 ERA last year and took a 6.39 mark into Saturday’s start, drew Cashman’s ire last Tuesday when he said it was “pretty clear” why the Yankees were starting him fourth out of their extended break that resulted from the Mets’ two coronavirus cases wiping out last weekend’s Subway Series. When a reporter asked Happ whether he thought his schedule tied into his vesting option, the pitcher replied, “You guys [in the media] are pretty smart. It doesn’t take too much to figure out, sort of, what could be going on.”
Cashman, referring to the five-day break that included the postponed Subway Series, a scheduled off day and a rainout in Atlanta, said, “That time frame had us reset the clock. So…you’re going to start your best starters and give them the ball as often as you possibly can in this shortened season. And unfortunately because of how we evaluate our rotation — and I think objectively how anybody would look at based on J.A. Happ’s performance last year and this year so far in the regular season, he slots toward the back of that rotation. And that’s all we’re doing.”
The original terms of the two-year, $34-million deal that Happ signed in December 2018 called for the vesting option to activate with 27 starts or 165 innings pitched. In this COVID-shortened season, those numbers would be prorated to 10 starts or 61 ⅓ innings, However, Happ’s contract was one of a handful that didn’t get blessed by a collectively bargained deal last month between the players and owners, meaning that his options wouldn’t necessarily vest at the prorated numbers. The Yankees and Happ could renegotiate new terms, or Happ could file a grievance if he feels he’s due the full freight or if he felt the Yankees proactively kept him from vesting.
Either way, Happ appears very unlikely to reach his desired targets. Saturday marked only his fourth start, and he began the day with 12 ⅔ innings pitched as the Yankees’ season reached the 30th game, its halfway point.
Following his outstanding effort, which lowered his ERA to 4.05, Happ declined to return fire on Cashman. He said he hadn’t spoken with Cashman or Yankees manager Aaron Boone about his comments.
“I think right now my focus is going to be on the baseball,” Happ said. “I feel like I answered some of the stuff that I wanted to maybe say. … We’ll kind of leave that there. If those conversations happen, then they will. I’m just going to focus on the season.”
A season in which he still can help the Yankees and his own 2021 market.
“It’s no secret what he’s been through this year,” Boone said of Happ. “His focus has never altered. His work between starts has been excellent and … that outing today, he’s had a lot of good outings for us since we got him [in 2018]. That’s right up there [with the best].”