Blue Jays Buzz: Happ Cashes In, But What Does it Mean for Josh Johnson?

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J.A. Happ is going to remember the last 48 hours.

Not only did he play himself into the vastly improved Toronto Blue Jays starting rotation with an excellent spring training, but he now has a shiny new contract, too.

The 6-foot-6 southpaw came over to Toronto last season in a trade with Houston. He began his Blue Jays career in the bullpen and was then called upon to make six starts before breaking his foot and ending his season prematurely.

A very Happ-y Camper

A very Happ-y Camper

Initially pegged as the team’s third starter behind Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow, Happ found himself the odd man out as Toronto acquired reigning NL Cy Young Award Winner R.A. Dickey, and Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle in trades with the New York Mets and Miami Marlins.

Throughout spring training, GM Alex Anthopoulos remained steadfast in his assertions that Romero would be the fifth starter and Happ would start the season in AAA-Buffalo. However, Romero posted a woeful 6.23 ERA in five starts while Happ dazzled with a 1.90 ERA in seven Grapefruit League outings, including six starts.

Finally, on March 26, Manager John Gibbons announced that Happ would be flying north with the Jays while Romero would be optioned to Class-A Dunedin to work out his mechanical issues.

As a reward to his new #5 pitcher and as a show of faith, Anthopoulos rewarded Happ with a favourable alteration to his contract. Happ and the Jays had agreed to a one-year $3.7 million deal in January, but under his new deal, he will receive that amount for 2013 and $5.2 million for 2014, with a club option worth $6.7 million for 2015.

This is great news for Happ, but what does it mean for the Toronto Blue Jays, especially in 2014?

The Jays now have five (potential) starting pitchers signed through next season (2014):

  • Buehrle: $19,000,000 (signed through 2015)
  • Dickey: $12,250,000 (signed through 2015; club option for 2016 for $12,000,000)
  • Morrow: $8,000,000 (club option for 2015 for $10,000,000)
  • Romero: $7,500,000 (signed through 2015)
  • Happ: $5,200,000 (club option for 2015 for $6,700,000)

Noticeably absent from that list is newly acquired Josh Johnson, who is making $13,750,000 in the final season of a deal he signed with the Marlins.

With so much money invested in Romero, you can be sure that the Jays will do everything possible to get him back into the rotation as soon as possible, either to contribute in Toronto or to increase his trade value.

Similarly, after repeatedly stating his displeasure at the possibility of starting in the minors or working out of the bullpen in Toronto, it would be sadistic for Anthopoulos to relegate Happ to a secondary role after re-signing him.

So what does that mean for Johnson? Anthopoulos has said that he was the original target in the Miami trade and was a pitcher that the Toronto GM had long coveted. Is the Happ re-signing simply an insurance policy against Romero not regaining his old form?

Could Johnson's stay in Toronto be a one-and-done?

Could Johnson’s stay in Toronto be a one-and-done?

Or could it be a sign that Anthopoulos doesn’t expect Johnson to re-sign in Toronto next summer? Granted, it would be highly unlikely for a contending team to make it through a season without injuries to the starting staff, but nevertheless, this could be a very crowded rotation if the Jays try to keep Johnson.

Here are a few of the more plausible interpretations for the Happ signing:

(1) Anthopoulos is simply taking out an insurance policy on Romero. If he rebounds, then the Jays will have a surplus of pitching and he can either start one in the minors or out of the bullpen, or trade one.

(2) The Jays will make a serious move to re-sign Johnson in the off-season, but either doesn’t expect him to stay in Toronto, or will be willing to move another one of their starters to accommodate his role in the rotation.

(3) Toronto has little-to-no intention of making a serious push to re-sign Johnson. Based on his spring training results, he appears to have regained his 2010 form and is set for a dominant season. If he can produce, he will be in line for a hefty raise which the Jays may not be able to afford. Not for nothing, but Johnson may not feel entirely appreciated in Toronto. In a (wise) bid to alternate righties and lefties in the rotation, manager John Gibbons has slotted Johnson in as his fourth starter. That has to be a bit of a blow to the ego for a guy who was the Opening Day starter for three straight years in Miami before coming over the in the trade.

As much as I don’t want to believe it, option three seems to be the most plausible, based on the potential glut in the rotation, but we just have to wait and see how 2013 shakes out before worrying about 2014.

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