J.A. Happ took the ball yesterday, and for the second time in as many starts, he struggled. In his outing against the Twins, Happ allowed seven runs and recorded only ten outs. He walked two and was tagged for three home runs, none of which were cheap. It was a lackluster bounce back on the heels of last Saturday's four walk, 1.2 inning disaster against Toronto and, combined with a few other factors, it ought to spell the end of his tenure in the Mariners starting rotation.
A career journeyman, Happ was acquired to shore up a rotation light on depth. Some held out hope that pitching in Safeco Field would help the Mariners get more out of the left-hander than his previous employers, but in most quarters, expectations were rightly tempered. He pitched well in the early part of the season, posting a 2.30 ERA in April while reliably eating innings as the rotation crumbled around him, and in the aggregate his 2015 season fits right in with his established baseline:
If nothing else, the southpaw is remarkably consistent. His last two outings were terrible but that shouldn't obscure Happ's Bloomquistian ability to entrench himself in a role characterized by instability. If the Mariners were still in the hunt for a playoff berth -- and short of better alternatives -- Happ would belong in the back of the rotation. He's a below average starter but a decent bet to keep his team in the game more often than not.
At this point though, he's of limited use to the M's. With the team basically out of the playoff picture, marginal wins are mostly meaningless and Happ's innings are better re-allocated to a pitcher who might someday be part of Seattle's next good team. The trade deadline is here, and there's no longer any need to showcase him for other clubs. The 2015 Mariners simply have no use for a veteran No. 5 starter. They need Happ like they need another strikeout prone corner outfielder, and for the sake of both parties, I hope Toronto really does want to bring him back.
Hearing Blue Jays, who are still looking to add pitching, showing some interest in J.A. Happ. They know him well. Had him previous 2+ years.— Bob Dutton (@TNT_Mariners) July 31, 2015
The trade deadline will pass in about three hours, and with it the last feasible reason for Happ's continued presence in the rotation will expire. He's reliably taken the ball every fifth day and he pitched about as well as anyone could have reasonably expected. Publicly, he never complained when the organization optioned him to Single-A for ten days to get Jesus Montero on the roster, though many in his position would have. He's a hard worker and a likable guy in the clubhouse.
But a veteran No. 5 starter is a superfluous ornament on a team playing for pride and the future. Happ won't be part of the 2016 Mariners and in the long run, the club is better off giving the 60-odd innings he's scheduled to throw to Roenis Elias. There's a decent chance that the Cuban will pitch better anyway, but projections aside, the 2016 rotation candidate shouldn't be blocked by a below average starter on his way out the door. All the best to Happ, but if he isn't waived or traded today, he should be moved to the bullpen to make room for Elias.