Price Tag on Lefty J.A. Happ Dropping, Looks Even More Attractive Now

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Price Tag on Lefty J.A. Happ Dropping, Looks Even More Attractive Now

Chicago Cubs

In the last 24 hours, the Cubs have gotten some pretty bad news. Most of it has been on the injury front (Kris Bryant, Javy Baez out today, Brandon Morrow not coming back this weekend), but some of it has been on the trade market, too.

First, the Yankees traded for Orioles reliever Zach Britton – a guy the Cubs have been attached to this season, last winter, and last summer. And then, the Red Sox went out and stole the arguable best rental starting pitching trade target, Nathan Eovaldi. To be fair, the price tag on Eovaldi was a tad higher than anyone expected – and perhaps higher than the Cubs should/would/could pay – but it is still a bummer.

With all of that said, there are tons of other relief and starting pitching options out there for the Cubs, and at least one pitcher in the latter group could now be marked down:

If you recall, the Cubs have been connected to the left-handed Blue Jays starter since July 8th, and he remains a perfectly interesting trade target for them. Here’s what Brett had to say about the rumors at the time:

Happ, 35, may well be the best pure rental starter that comes onto the market this trade season, working on his fourth straight good-to-great season, ever since his career renaissance started with the Pirates before coming to the Blue Jays. (One of the guys credited with that career turnaround, by the way? Pitching guru Jim Benedict, who is now in the Cubs organization.)

Since that day, Happ has made two starts (one against the Red Sox and another against the Orioles), and has allowed just one earned run across both (admittedly short) outings. Of course, something weird must’ve happened in the Red Sox game, because Happ allowed 5 runs to score in just 3.2 IP, but none of them were earned and he allowed just 5 hits and 1 walk against six strikeouts. Indeed, Happ has a 15-1 K-BB ratio since then, and his overall body of work continues to look quite good.

For the season, Happ has a nearly-league average 4.18 ERA, but a really solid 3.84 FIP, thanks to an absolutely beautiful 27.4% strikeout rate and 7.4% walk rate. But that’s not all. Happ also gets plenty of ground balls and a TON of infield pop-ups, while inducing more soft contact and less hard contact than the average pitcher. Honestly, dude’s been a good pitcher and probably doesn’t deserve that ERA.

In terms of short-term attractiveness, he’s right there with Eovaldi, but that’s only somewhat good news, given the price Eovaldi just commanded. Perhaps the Cubs could gain leverage by pointing out an intra-divisional premium (Rays to Red Sox), but I don’t know if they’d gain much ground there.

Instead, their best bet is probably to continue feeling out all of their options on the rental starter market, like Cole Hamels, Tyson Ross, Francisco Liriano, or Matt Harvey (probably not happening). As for the others, well, the Cubs have shown interest in Hamels and Ross in the past, so perhaps there’s at least an outside chance at something working out there.

At this point, Happ feels like their best bet in terms of immediate impact and overall fit, though the Cubs are still far from the only team looking to add to their starting pitching depth. There’s also the possibility that the Cubs could add a controllable starter – Jacob deGrom is the extreme version, but there are also bounce-back types like Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman – but that is less likely and more costly.

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami