It never quite ceases to amaze me that there’s this conception among fans that athletes should think the same way about the good of the team and the sanctity of the game as they do. This arose earlier this winter in the fan reaction to the bluff made by Darren Oliver’s agent in an attempt to extract more money from the club, and I’m seeing it again today after sixth starter J.A. Happ voiced his displeasure with appearing to be ticketed for Buffalo to start the season.
“Considering it’s spring you’d think he would just keep his mouth shut and do what is good for the team. There’s no way AA is going to trade at this point in time no matter how much he cries? He’s still making major league money, time to suck it up,” says one comment.
“Happ needs to check his ego at the door and realize its all about winning,” says another. “Yeah, playing in the minors sucks but hes the 6th starter for fucks sakes. Its basically a given he will be up at some point and it could be even earlier if romero continues to suck.”
There are elements of these comments that I can’t help but agree with. The first is absolutely right that Happ doesn’t have much of a choice in the matter and should probably do a better job of not talking about it. The second is bang on about the fact that Happ isn’t very likely to wind up as John Lannan, who spent the bulk of 2012 in the minors after making 122 big league starts over the previous four years. The Nationals had remarkable health in their rotation last year– remarkable effectiveness, too– and it’s a solid bet that the Jays’ collection of arms aren’t going to quite be so otherworldly fortunate.
What’s missing, of course, is that Happ is concerned about his earning power as he heads into his third and final year of arbitration. Being “stuck” on this team as opposed to a number of others, where he’d actually get to start, could end up costing him two- or three-million dollars– if he stays down for a significant portion of the year. That’s not a tiny amount for a player of Happ’s stature in the game, even though it drives fans batty to think that someone could have the audacity to be upset when he’s already being paid more money than most of us could ever dream of. These players have a very short window in their lives in which to capitalize on the earning potential their baseball abilities, and at least a decade of full-on dedication to the sport have afforded them.
Obviously they want to win, but there is clearly a disconnect between fan and player when it comes to the financial sacrifice– and the sacrifice of big league comforts– that are worth enduring in order to be a bit player on a very good team. We want our players to bleed the team colours, partly because we sure would take $3.7-million to sit in Buffalo until called upon, and we want to be a part of a winner here, not any old place that will hand us the biggest cheque. It’s real easy to say when you don’t have what could, in an instant, turn out to be the last big payday of your lifetime staring you in the face.
That isn’t to say that the Jays should feel sorry enough for Happ to capitulate — it’s not like the way his contract works wasn’t the product of good faith collective bargaining– but to simply make sure we’re all on the same page regarding why he’s frustrated. Or, at least, part of the reason.
Another part of the reason, of course, is the fact that the guy he’s stuck behind is Ricky Romero, and not only did Romero get himself a fat guaranteed contract that bought him out of this pesky arbitration process Happ is mired in, but while Happ pitched to a 4.59 ERA as a starter with a .719 OPS against after joining the Jays on July 20th, Romero was blasted to the tune of an .865 OPS and a 6.90 ERA during the same period. And not a whole lot has seemed to change up to this point in camp, either, though it’s impossible to take too much from the early spring performances of guys working with limited repertoires against sub-par competition. Still, I think Happ can understandably believe that in a world where contracts didn’t exist, he’d currently be ahead of Romero in a battle to be the club’s fifth starter– a battle he would have come into camp with a leg up on regardless.
It’s still way too early for anybody else to really start believing that, maybe, but I get why Happ might. It speaks, though, to what’s really the most frustrating thing in all this, which appears to be his utter lack of patience, not to mention his over-willingness to whine about his spot. He did the same thing– cloaking his comments in the same language he is now about not wanting to create trouble, but then doing it anyway– less than a week after he was acquired, telling reporters, according to a John Lott piece in the National Post, “I don’t want to make any waves or cause any issues. I think we’ll just wait and see a little bit. But obviously I feel like I’m better suited to be a starter. I think I can be successful there and help this team in that role. So I do hope for an opportunity to get in the rotation.”
I mean, I can deal with the financial concerns being paramount, or when a player feels the need to look out for himself rather than the team– as I said repeatedly during the Oliver situation, we applaud teams for getting the best of players in deals, and don’t bat an eyelash when they’re talked about and moved around like chattel. I can also understand Happ wanting to put more stock into last year’s results, rather than looking to, say, the year before, when he was posting a 5.35 ERA and Romero was racking up his third straight season of being worth one full win-above-replacement more than Happ’s high watermark. But Happ not seeing how vital he’s going to be to this club, how contractually he has zero leverage to better his lot, getting his britches in a bunch about where he’ll be on April 2nd, and continuing to make noise about it when clearly he knows better? That I have a harder time with.
Sure, it must be frustrating to be losing earning power while stuck in the minors behind the qualified MLB starter with the worst ERA in 2012, the worst BB/9, and who was in the bottom five in FIP, xFIP and fWAR too. But for fuck sakes, give it time. If you’re riding the buses of the International League in mid-April, tearing up the place, while Romero looks as unhinged as ever, then by all means, gripe away. But let’s not forget that, in Romero, we’re talking about a pitcher who, at 9.9 over the three years prior to last, was within about a half a win-above-replacement of David Price (9.9), James Shields (10.5), Max Scherzer (9.7), Matt Garza (9.6), Ryan Dempster (9.6), and Justin Masterson (9.4), with an xFIP (3.82) that slots him right between Anibal Sanchez (3.81) and Jered Weaver (3.83).
He does deserve a little bit of rope.
And unfortunately for Happ, Alex Anthopoulos sees it that way, too– or, at the very least, he wants the fragile Romero to think he does. “We are confident that at some point in time this season we will need more than five starts. I feel for him but …,” explained the GM, according to Mike Rutsey of the Toronto Sun. “Anything can change (with an injury),” he added, “but right now he’s our sixth starter.”
Sounds emphatic, but those sorts of words can ring pretty hollow this time of year– and yeah, maybe saying so is a cheap way for someone like me to inflate interest in an otherwise ho-hum camp, but let’s not forget what Anthopoulos was saying about Brett Cecil at almost exactly this time last year, according to a radio hit I transcribed…
“I think Cecil has looked outstanding,” Anthopoulos insisted, after being asked about the rumours swirling in the vacuum created by the dearth of information he allows to become public about his club. “His changeup is great. Obviously his committed himself, his body is outstanding [note: rawwwr!]. He’s always been a great athlete, but he’s even that much more athletic now, with the added weight loss.
“His velocity’s fine. People like to make something of it, but Brett Cecil’s never been a power guy.”
Three weeks later Joel Carreno was in the rotation.