Toronto Blue Jays Rumors: Is J.A. Happ Most Valuable As Trade Bait?

By Thom Tsang
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

In what circumstance would a pitching-needy team like the Toronto Blue Jays think about trading one of its established big-league arms?

When said arm’s ceiling is a back-of-the-rotation starter, something that the team actually has an abundance of, I suppose. Yes, the Blue Jays have major needs in starting pitching, but considering that they’ve got potential back-end starters in Kyle Drabek, Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond and Drew Hutchison (plus others), the issue that the team’s rotation is facing is really more of a talent problem rather than a numbers one.

Even with the question marks that the group of pitchers have, it’s undoubtedly the case that there are going to be a few guys who will end up being the odd men out if they go into Spring Training without any changes.

Happ isn’t likely to be one of them, of course, but being experienced and established as a big leaguer is both a blessing and a curse for the lefty, as his ceiling limits the role and the value he could have for the team going into what is potentially a contract year. Is he a fit as the no. 4 or no. 5 starter? Sure. Is he necessarily so much better than Rogers, Redmond or even a prospect like Marcus Stroman in that spot that warrants his $5.2 million salary in 2014? Well …

In short, while Toronto could certainly use him in the starting five, Happ is far from a necessary piece for this team.

The same, however, cannot be said if he were to be on a different squad. In fact, given the eye-opening prices that starting pitchers are going at these days, you might even say that the 31-year-old would be a bargain for another team that’s short on pitching depth, as he’s under team control potentially through 2015 with a $6.7 million team option.

That gives the Blue Jays a unique opportunity to use him as trade bait to other pitching-deficient teams like the Los Angeles Angels, who just saw their former back-end starter Jason Vargas land a new four-year, $32 million deal with the Kansas City Royals off the strength of a … 1.5 fWAR season. Happ was a 1.2 fWAR pitcher through just 92.2 innings in a tumultuous 2013 season, so you’d figure he’d at least be a person of interest.

No, Happ is certainly not going to directly help Toronto land the frontline starter they want, but it’s not inconceivable that he could be packaged with other pieces to acquire a second baseman like Howie Kendrick. Another potential dance partner for the Blue Jays is the Washington Nationals, who are looking for a back-end starter to replace Dan Haren and who may be looking to part ways with Danny Espinosa (and his torn rotator cuff) for good.

If a move were to be made, the latter scenario would see the Blue Jays save valuable millions that could ultimately be used to target a free agent starter, or to potentially extend a pitcher acquired in a trade like Jeff Samardzija.

Compared to the overall on-field value he could have for Toronto in 2014, especially given that the Bluebirds have their share of pitchers in a similar position at a lower cost … you’d think that even if they don’t make a hard push to sell Happ, it’s at least worth seriously exploring, no?

Thom is an MLB writer for Follow him on Twitter @BlueJaysRant, or add him to your network on Google

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