Signing of left-hander should begin setting prices for free-agent pitchers
By Chad Thornburg
A rich free-agent pitching market got a little lighter Friday as J.A. Happ inked a deal with the Blue Jays.
Happ, 33, signed a three-year deal valued at $36 million to return to Toronto, where he pitched for two-plus seasons from 2012-14. While far from a model of consistency throughout his nine-year Major League career, Happ boosted his stock with a strong finish to his 2015 campaign. After being traded from Seattle to Pittsburgh in July, Happ went 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA over his final 11 starts.
The move indicates the Jays might be preparing to move on without free-agent left-hander David Price, whom Toronto acquired from the Tigers at the Trade Deadline last season. Happ is the third rotation piece the Jays have secured this offseason. Earlier this month, they traded for right-hander Jesse Chavez and re-signed Marco Estrada, solidifying their rotation in the event Price opts to sign elsewhere.
"While several teams expressed interest, the Blue Jays [were] determined from the outset of free agency and demonstrated a solid commitment early in the process, which J.A. appreciated," Happ's agent Jay Fee told Jon Morosi of FOX Sports, suggesting the Jays' commitment to bolstering their rotation, with or without Price.
The impact of this signing won't just affect Toronto, however. It could have ripple effects throughout the market, particularly in contract negotiations for other free-agent hurlers.
Happ's deal establishes a baseline for pitchers of his caliber while also indicating the type of salaries the upper-tier free-agent starters could net this winter. Expect the cost to sign marquee names like Zack Greinke or Price to soar into nine figures.
And, of course, with Happ's signing decreasing the likelihood of Price suiting up for the Blue Jays in 2016, that's undoubtedly good news for other teams pursuing the free-agent ace, including but not limited to the Red Sox, Cubs, Cardinals, Dodgers and Giants.
Happ likely benefited financially from signing before the big-name dominos fell. While no other major signings appear imminent at the moment, the market will likely fall into place once the biggest pieces -- such as Greinke, Price, Johnny Cueto and Jordan Zimmermann -- are off the board, clearing the way for teams to divert their focus to secondary targets.
Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.