The Blue Jays on Thursday morning introduced the newest member of their starting rotation J.A. (Jay) Happ to the media, a day after signing a contract extension for two years, $8.9 million, plus an option for 2015 of $6.7 million. Happ was already under contract, avoiding arbitration, signing a one-year deal for $3.7 million in January.
“It's something that we first discussed in the off-season when we weere doing his arbitration case," Jays' GM Alex Anthopoulos said. "There was definitely an interest on the club's part. We wanted to wait and see how his foot healed. It was something that we said we would take a look at again. We started talking about it early in spring training again. We're excited to have him."
Happ, obtained from the Astros in a 10-player trade in July of 2012 that had seemed to lean heavily in favour of Houston, suffered a season-ending fracture to his right foot in September and spent the winter rehabbing the injury. He reported to spring training and has been the second most effective Jays' starter to righthander Josh Johnson.
"I felt good coming in and I felt confident," Happ said of his physical condition entering the spring. "We did so many drills and exercises to try to simulate game-type situations. You never know being off your feet and non-weight bearing, it's not an easy or fun thing to do. It was certainly a process getting back, but it was definitely all worth it."
The signing came as somewhat of a surprise, since speculation was that Happ would either make the team in long relief or else be optioned to Triple-A Buffalo in order to stay stretched out in case of an injury of the failure of a starter. Then Romero was sent down opening the way for Happ to be inserted into the five-man rotation as fifth starter.
“You don't want to promise something and then have to go backwards, say this is the way things are going to be then something comes up and changes," Anthopoulos said. "(Manager John Gibbons) told me he was having a conversation with Jim Leyland. The quote he had that was great was 'Tell a player the truth, he'll hate you for a week. You lie to him, he'll hate you for a lifetime.' Those are great words to live by, whether you're staff member, front office. As hard as it was on Jay, and it was, he did a tremendous job trying to keep a clear head, go out and do what he could do and wait until he got the phone call."
Happ said that even though the starting job came late in the process, he has no intention of being considered "starting depth" which is the way the GM described his roster right now. It's the same disappointing scenario that Happ encountered when he first came over to the Jays last summer. He was a starter with the Astros, then headed to long relief until injuries to others opened the door late in the summer, before his own injury ended his season.
“I had agreed (to the extension) before I had even found out that I would make the rotation," Happ explained. "Obviously there's a trust and confidence in myself. I think this deal gives me more confidence that the organization believes in me to an extent and those are the things that went into the decision-making process.
He was asked about whether with the new contract it woud make it easier for him to accept going back to the pen or heading to Buffalo if Romero was to be given back his job.
“We can use the word 'depth' or whatever," Happ said. "That's not what I see myself as. I certainly plan on showing them that they shouldn't either. I want to be an established piece that makes a big contribution. That's always been my goal and that's the plan. There's no guarantees in anything, but I plan on pitching and keeping the spot."
The Jays are now paying six starting pitchers -- R.A. Dickey, Brandon Morrow, Mark Buehrle, Johnson, Happ and Romero -- a total of $43.7 million in 2012. Johnson is the only one not under contract beyond 2013.