2013 Spring Training

Should the Phillies Pursue Happ?

Happ is unhappy in Toronto. The Phillies may need a starter. Could they trade for Happ? Would they?

The reports out of Clearwater today regarding Roy Halladay were worrisome at best and troublesome at worst – Halladay threw 82 pitches, staying in the high 80s according to Chris Branch, with limited control (2 BB, 1 HBP) and “plenty of hard hit balls“. Halladay’s struggles are well documented but there is reason for optimism: Rich Dubee believes Halladay will be ready with two more Spring starts (including today) and Doc himself told Jayson Stark he is optimistic about the season.

But what if he’s not?

Five miles up the road from Clearwater, the Blue Jays suddenly have rotation full of capable pitchers. The stable of arms includes high-end talent like Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, and the reigning NL Cy Young R.A. Dickey, with younger promising arms like Brandon Morrow and former All-Star Ricky Romero rounding out the back end. The acquisition of Johnson, Buehrle, and Dickey leaves the Jays with a great rotation, but also with a disgruntled 29-year old who is now seemingly out of a job and slated to start the year in Triple-A. Last week, CBS’s Scott Miller reported J.A. Happ was unhappy in Toronto with his situation.

Is a return for Happ a viable option for the Phillies if Halladay is not ready for Opening Day?

Let’s start at the beginning: is it financially possible for Happ to come to the Phillies? The long and short answers are yes – Happ will make $3.7 million in 2013. The real question is: is the best use of seemingly limited resources? Over his career, Happ’s 4.19 ERA compares favorably to John Lannan‘s 4.01 ERA and possess a better WHIP, a lower H/9 IP, and a better K/BB rate. Happ was worth about two wins last season across time with the Astros and Blue Jays, about the same as Kendrick and Lannan are expected to provide. In short, it is financially possible and Happ’s production would be worth acquiring.

The next question is: do the Phillies have the pieces to acquire Happ? The answer to this is a resounding yes. While the Phillies don’t have the farm that other clubs do, let’s take a look at Happ’s historical comparables at age 29. His number one comparable? Mark Redman, who happened to coincidentally be traded right at this same point in his career. Redman was traded for Michael Neu and Bill Murphy, two organizational filler relievers who were good enough to play in the Majors but struggled in two seasons each to stick in their mid-late 20s. The Phillies have a lot of these type arms.

So, if they can afford Happ and they have the pieces to acquire him, what’s the hold up? Well, Halladay is Halladay and he’s going to want to play through this. And if you trade for Happ and Halladay is ready? Well, you now have a $3.4 million long reliever. Ouch. Adam Morgan has had a strong Spring and the Phillies have Tyler Cloyd, Jonathan Pettibone, and Ethan Martin, not to mention Aaron Cook‘s steady performance. Those five players will cost either the rookie minimum or, in Cook’s case, the veteran minimum. The younger players could benefit from the opportunity to play at the big league level and Cook can keep the Phillies in most games.

Should the Phillies make the call to the Jays to see if they are willing to deal Happ? Absolutely – they should do their due diligence. Happ isn’t cheap and isn’t the best pitcher, but he may be the best pitcher available and may be able to be had a reasonable price. It is unlikely that they would make a deal but Happ could fit the bill if they needed a starter and preferred to go the veteran route.

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