This summer’s trade market for starting pitching may be one of the weakest in recent memory, but the New York Yankees, in danger of falling out of reach of the rival Boston Red Sox in the American League East, were not in position to be picky. And on Thursday, they scored arguably the best starter available, veteran lefty J.A. Happ.
The Yankees’ rotation behind ace Luis Severino was full of question marks, from Masahiro Tanaka’s extensive injury history to CC Sabathia’s limited length to Sonny Gray’s sheer lack of dependability. It didn’t help that Jordan Montgomery was lost for the season in early May to an elbow injury.
Happ, a first-time all-star this season at age 35, immediately brings some stability to that group, along with an extensive track record that includes a 3.72 ERA in 10 postseason appearances, including three starts. Most recently, in 2016 — the same season he went 20-4 with a 3.18 ERA and finished sixth in Cy Young voting — he made a pair of playoff starts for the Blue Jays, winning one and losing one.
To pry Happ, who is eligible for free agency at the end of the season, away from the Toronto Blue Jays, the Yankees are sending 25-year-old infielder Brandon Drury and 23-year-old outfielder Billy McKinney to Toronto. Although both are viable big league talents, both were expendable for the Yankees, with Drury losing his third base job to rookie Miguel Andujar early in the season and McKinney unable to crack the team’s high-powered outfield and spending most of this season at Class AAA.
The Yankees have positioned themselves as perhaps the most aggressive buyer in this summer’s trade market. The Happ deal comes two days after the Yankees pulled off a trade for Baltimore Orioles closer Zach Britton. The Yankees didn’t necessarily need help at the back end of games, with their bullpen leading the major leagues with a 2.76 ERA even before Britton showed up. But they did need help at the front end, as their starters’ collective ERA of 4.02 ranked just 12th.
The Yankees entered Thursday on pace for 104 wins but trailing the Red Sox by 5½ games. The teams will play 10 more times in the regular season, and Happ happens to be 7-4 with a 2.98 ERA in 19 career appearances (including 18 starts) against the Red Sox, including two starts this season in which he went 0-1 with an 0.84 ERA and 16 strikeouts against only one walk in 10 2/3 innings.
While the AL East winner gets to host a division series, the loser must survive a single-elimination wild-card game — at this point, the opponent would be Seattle — for the right to play on. The Red Sox, who were also trying to land Britton, traded for right-handed starter Nathan Eovaldi from the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday.
But with the Red Sox still believed to be seeking bullpen help, and with five days until the trade deadline, the AL East arms race may not be over.
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