In search of starting pitching, the Padres could consider free-agent left-handed pitcher J.A. Happ.
Mike Clevinger’s Tommy John surgery news put a huge wrench in the San Diego Padres’ pitching plan for 2021.
Before the news, the Padres were looking to add a back of the rotation arm, then address other areas. With the loss of one of their top two pitchers, who they acquire this offseason, is of even greater importance.
The back of the rotation puzzle piece: J.A Happ
J.A Happ is a 14-year lefty veteran who has played for six different teams, not separating his two different stints with the Blue Jays and most recently pitched for the Yankees. He is a player without many accolades to go with his longevity, one all-star appearance (2018), a ROY runner up (2009), and sixth place in the Cy Young race (2016). That should not be a problem as he is not here to replace Clevinger; he is here for the four or five spots in the rotation.
What he brings to the table
He has a career 3.98 ERA and had a 3.47 ERA n the 60-game season. He does not shine very brightest anywhere, but at the same time does not have any glaring holes. His 7.66 K/9, 2.74 BB/9, and 1.46 HR/9 will work for where he is supposed to slot in. Happ’s peripherals give him some hope that he can improve. He ranked in the top 75th percentile or higher in xwOBA, xERA, xSLG, and Barrel percentage. At his age, he still has a chance of getting better.
Like potential teammate Zach Davies, he doesn’t throw all that hard but is still effective. His sinker-fastball averages about 91 mph, and he uses that combination roughly 66 percent of the time. He also features a slider with a 31.7 percent whiff rate and a changeup that could use some work. Luckily for him, Davies and Chris Paddack each have very effective changeups and could teach an old dog new tricks.
He also fits in well with the Padres’ needs. In the rotation competition, the lefties are Adrián Morejón, Joey Lucchesi, Ryan Weathers, and MacKenzie Gore. Morejón will likely be on the team, but it is unclear in what capacity. Lucchesi struggled greatly to start last season and was sent down to the alternate site, never to be seen again. Then there is Weathers and Gore, who are top prospects but haven’t pitched at length above Double-A ball. Happ would be the only lefty pitcher with a proven track record as a starter.
The last bit is the veteran experience that is priceless to have with a lot of young pitchers. The Padres have four promising pitchers that are all under 22 years old. Of those four, Morejón and Luis Patiño are the only ones to pitch in the regular season. For them to be asked to pitch on a team with World Series aspirations is going be not only a physical but a mental battle for the pitchers. Happ has pitched in six different postseasons and was on the Yankees who held similar aspirations as the Padres. He knows what the pressure is like and can be a veteran mentor for some of them.
Why it would work
The Padres need someone to fill in the back spot of the rotation while the young pitchers duel it out for playing time. Happ can buy time until a winner is crowned. He still gets to be on a competitive team and have a chance at earning a World Series ring in his final years of playing baseball. His contract expectations should be what the Padres want–a one-year deal for under $10 million and maybe a club option for another year. At 38 years old, his days are dwindling. Downplaying on a young, fun team in San Diego is a pretty nice way to call it a career.