While it’s certainly important to give a bit a leeway when it comes to talking about performances of folks like J.A. Happ, the feel-good story of his misadventure (putting it lightly) with a line drive and subsequent comeback in the same season is going to have to end sooner or later.
In its place, as the Toronto Blue Jays look towards 2014, will be a question that Happ dealt with for most of Spring Train in 2013, as the team was desperately trying to keep Ricky Romero from falling apart both mechanically and mentally: has he done enough to earn a spot in the starting rotation?
Though it might not seem like much of a question given the current state of the team, that he’s in the starting five now out of the process of elimination will not necessary guarantee that he’ll be around next year.
It might be a bit harsh to say (and perhaps somewhat unlikely given Happ’s $5.2 million salary … not that it stopped Romero), but harsh is exactly what this team needs to be next season to bounce back from the 2013 nightmare, as the core group is still undoubtedly constructed to win within a relatively short window.
After all, R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle aren’t in the rotation next season so the team can rebuild, and they happen to be arguably the only two sure things about the team’s starting five in 2014.
Joining them, at least on paper, is the oft-injured Brandon Morrow, who likely isn’t going anywhere else besides the DL with his $8 million contract and disappointing age-28 season. After that, it’s been a non-stop pitching carousel, with no one being a lock at the moment, though Todd Redmond has definitely surprised by managing to stay on.
In short, there are job openings … but it’s unlikely that Happ will simply handed one.
If his latest outing is any indication, the team has good reason not to, as the lefty once again struggled with control, giving up five walks in 5.1 innings of work and allowing four runs despite just three hits. Even with an impressive seven-inning outing against the Oakland Athletics in his second game back, the 30-year old has now walked 11 batters in 21.2 innings over four starts, good for a poor 4.57 BB/9 rate.
And as much as I’d like to say that it’s because he was rusty and coming off a long layoff, that fact is that it falls right in line with the control issues that’s held him back in his career thus far (4.02 BB/9 over 644.2 career IP).
In fact, despite a strong 3.86/1.25 ERA/WHIP start to his 2013, his 5.10/1.46 now is arguably much closer to what the team might expect out of the southpaw in his age-29 season. Remember his seven-walk outing back in May? That’s not exactly what you’d call a fluke.
With the team having some options with the back-end of the rotation (Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchison, Todd Redmond), Happ will have to at least maintain something of a status quo with the guy who earned the job out of Spring Training to keep it next season. More five-walk outings like these, and he might find himself back where he started in Spring Training this year: in a competition with no guarantees.
Why? Well, as much as Blue Jays would probably like to avoid this scenario and just give him a mulligan on a lost season … the fact is that they simply can’t afford to.