Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees

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.

Comments (54)

  1. I love this Mike Wilner tweet from yesterday regarding this situation

    Mike Wilner ‏@Wilnerness590
    For those saying #Bluejays should take best SPs based on right now – your rotation is Johnson, Happ, Bush, Morrow, Germano. #ThereYaGo #Jays

    We know that everyone wants to go with the hot hand but we need Romero to get his space and stick in the rotation to figure out his problems.

  2. so if romero sucks in april %chance that he gets sent down

    • I think he would have to really suck in April to get sent down after only 5 starts. But I do think it wont be very long. But how fast do you want to pull on that depth with 140 games to go if you pull him in April.

      but who knows,

      with good D, and if Rickey can find that Sinker he lost, his GB rate could jump up and could see a lot more outs and DPs, which could lower pitch counts, prolong the starts, give the team a better chance. Rickey doesn’t have to be lights out to stay in the rotation, he just has to get more ground balls, keep that ERA at a reasonable 4-4.5 ERA (which is what you will likely see from Happ btw), and he will be fine.

      I like both Rickey and Happ, always liked LHP more, just because LHB seem to really struggle, which always throws me for a loop (not a playonwords).

      • Thats fine to prefer LHPs in general but part of Rickys problem was he was exposed as actually pretty bad vs LHB.

        Not sure if im misreading what your confused about, but i think the reason lefties tend to struggle much more than righties vs pitchers throwing from the same side has to do with the fact that coming up through school and the minors youll face much more RHP. So if you bat right and cant hit RHP youll never make the show in the first place, whereas a leftie can get away with just mashing righties and be semi-successful without ever having to learn to hit lefties all that well.

        • Think Rickey had more issues last year then just pitching to LHBs lol

          I do think you maybe right on the coming up threw, seeing more RHP thing, but Idk how true it is, cause, well, i really just dont know. Would be interesting to see it broken down, which Im sure it is someplace on the AlGoreinterweb, just dont care to look for it right now lol

        • Cough Adam Lind cough

    • I’d say maybe 40%. Probably a 20-30% chance someone in the rotation is hurt by then anyways. And if hes awful for 2-3 starts but decent for 1-2 he might buy himself some more time.

    • I’m curious about how wins and losses will affect the timing if Ricky struggles. Lets say his numbers are atrocious, but he keeps winning due to great batting by the Jays, that’s when the decision will be hard.

      Will AA be willing to send down a struggling pitcher who is winning. Will he actually be willing to make a statement about what a bullshit stat pitcher wins is? Can you send down a winning pitcher?

      Of course, that only comes up in a narrowly prescribed set of circumstances, but it would be interesting to see.

      • Maybe not as narrow a set of circumstances as you think. Remember Ricky started the year 8 – 1 (im pretty sure ..?) last year before only winning like 1 more decision the rest of the season.
        Nobody was really calling for his head then, but I think all reasonable baseball people werent praising him either, and seeing that he was definitely getting the benefit of help from a lot of those “wins” early last year.

  3. The contract Lannan signed makes me wonder if Happ is even losing any potential earning power. In fact, it’s quite possibly more lucrative for Happ to pitch half the season in AAA and half in the majors than for him to spend 180 innings at the big league level posting the results he’s produced in the last 2 seasons. Lannan got 2.5m guaranteed with performance bonuses based on GS & IP that can easily bring his salary to the 4-5m range, and he threw a whopping 32.2 MLB innings in 2012 despite being healthy.

  4. As much as I agree with the likes of Wilner that spring training numbers are kind of meaningless, I think that Romero really needs to show some positive signs over the next few spring starts. Obviously with the Jays’ contractual commitment and the past success he’s had, the Jays don’t want to just throw him in the minors and turn their backs on him. Still, they’re not just gonna trot him out start after start if he looks like Ricky 2012 or the way he’s looked so far this spring.

  5. I think the rope given to anyone this year will be significantly less than in the past because of the expectations people have for this team: fans, management, and owners alike. Since every win is important, both in April and September, a pitcher who is not performing will have to be watching his rear-view mirror.

  6. I can see it would be grating for Happ to hear that he is #6 behind Romero now matter how they perform. I’m not sure if that’s what’s actually been said but I can see how he could hear it that way.

  7. Also absolutely worth mentioning that if he’s down for just over 2 months, it will delay his free agency by a year as well.

  8. Thanks Stoeten for presenting such a balanced case without being unrealistic. Yes Happ should be more patient for the reasons you point out. But you do a good job of setting out the other side of the argument.

    People often look at the money and think that athletes should never complain about anything but that’s unfair. In this case you rightly point out that Happ is faced with a potential loss of millions of dollars in future salary if he doesn’t get to pitch at the Major League level this year. No matter who you are staring a potential loss of millions of bucks and the multi-generational financial security that could bring in the face is going to make anyone a bit antsy. Still Happ should show a little more tact.

    • It’s true that Happ should show more tact – he’s not doing himself favours by talking about this to the press – but, the difference in salary is really huge for a guy like him. Happ is a fifth starter on a mediocre at best major league rotation. He’ll never be a Halladay and he knows it. If he starts to decline at all with age, he’s no longer a major league starter. He’s right to want to be able to get a payday ASAP since this is probably his only one left. But again, there’s no upside in griping to the media. It reflects a lack of self-control.

  9. I don’t know why any athlete says anything of any significance to the media or via twitter or any social mass media avenue.

    There is never anything to be gained and only potential trouble.

    Like Jose and his silly baseball code stuff. Why comment?

  10. It’s a very good point about Romero being owed some more rope. You don’t jettison a guy that did so well the previous couple of years. Considering it’s not a velocity problem like some starters, I have a lot of confidence that he’ll bounce back. If the team can get a 2011 or at worst a 2010 season out of him as the #5 starter then I think that will be the least of the Jays problems in 2013.

    • I agree NM.
      Romero was injured last year yet continued to push through it.
      According to Stoeten ( via Drew),Romero’s arm was “barking” at the end of last year.
      He coulda taken the easy way and shut himself down.
      Give him some time to work things out before you write him off.
      One concern.Ricky may be his own worst enemy. Reports and his actions suggest he’s hard on himself mentally,when he doesn’t perform well.That leads to tinkering and confidence issues when pitching.

  11. spoke a lot of this yesterday.

    This is my opinion in a nut shell.

    Happ, I hear ya man, its sucks, but you need to stop airing this in public, we all know your pitching better right now, give it time and you will have you chance.

  12. Why isn’t the title “Breaking: Ricky Romero’s Rope”

  13. If he wants to be in a rotation, then he should pitch well enough to force the Jays’ hand. It’s as simple as that. Don’t want to be part of the battle for the 5th spot in the rotation? Pitch well enough to be a #3 or #4 starter. He’s auditioning for the job of “worst starter in the rotation” for crying out loud. If he came over and had a sub-3.00 ERA, he’d be in rotation for sure so he has no one to blame for himself.

    It’s the same kind of tune you hear from guys who complain about playing time or complain about being platooned. Don’t want to be platooned? Stop sucking against same-sided pitchers.

    • Here is what I think you are missing.

      1 – Before ST began, he was told he would be in AAA
      2 – He is good enough to Start on 25 of the 30 teams in the MLB
      3 – He is 30, he only has so many years left, and is about to be a FA in a year or so, and wants to make some green, can ya blame him?

    • The difference here is that, as even Gibby and AA have admitted, Happ would be good enough to be a back-of-rotation starter on most other teams in MLB. Imagine if Ricky gets off to a great start this April. Happ could still be good enough to be a 4-5 with the Jays, but, barring injury, probably wouldn’t get the chance to do it. Great for the team, sucks for him.

      • No doubt, but that’s my entire point. If “good enough to be a back-end-rotation starter” is your argument for why you should be in the rotation, then you’re clearly not all that good. If you really want to be guaranteed a spot in ANY starting rotation, you gotta be better than “good enough to be a back-end-starter.” If that’s your claim to fame, then too bad, you’re going to get passed over from time to time.

  14. Anyone know if Romero has options remaining? Can he be sent down ?

  15. Good points, all.
    Bottom line is, Happ wants to get paid like a mid-rotation guy (don’t we all?) – while pitching at a 6th starter level. Yeah, it’s a numbers crunch right now – six starters for 5 spots – and it sucks…I get it. But bitching about it won’t help – all you can do is be ready when the inevitable injury happens, or Rickey continues to have adventures in Control Land.

  16. Send him back to Houston, watch him get lit up by Texas and LAAoA and see how much his next contract is worth.

  17. Happ should have got a no trade clause with the Astro’s. I don’t know if you can really compare Cecil last year to Ricky this year. Ricky’s way more established.

    • I dont think backend rotation types are really ever in a position to demand a no-trade, and even if he could it means your losing something else(probably money). Either way, pretty unlikely that a team would give up several assets for you, then go out and pick up 3 big money starters 3 months later.

  18. Happ is well entitled to feel miffed. Most of would in his situation.

    However, he knows the score: you go into MLB, you’re at the mercy of the teams. That’s the pact you make when you take that signing bonus. There is nothing to be gained by mouthing off in public – it doesn’t help the GM’s workload, it won’t endear you to the fans, and I’ll bet the clubhouse won’t take to those type of complaints either.

    Bury the frustration, work hard, force the team’s arm, keep the mouth closed.

  19. How long before Cecil is traded, given he’s out of options?

  20. Eagerly awaiting an update from @The Big Guy 1968 assuming he is not tazed and or incarcerated.

  21. Not Jays related but I see Greinke is out with an elbow injury. 147 million ouches to the Dodgers.

  22. One thing I always found odd about watching happ pitch was guys always seemed to be under his fastball…. but like ALWAYS. I’ve never seen anything like it before. Timing on the pitch was good, they just missed.

  23. It should be noted that Romero also struggled for a few years in the minor leagues before his solid 3 years in the majors.

    He was supposed to get to the majors quickly as a highly drafted college pitcher but struggled with walks in 2007 and 2008. He was about to be sent back to the minors in the spring of 2009 before Brad Arnsberg requested to keep him and work on some things.

    Point being, Ricky has a history of losing his command. He deserves a little rope. But not a whole lot. If he has a few starts where he can’t command his fastball sending him to the minors might be the best thing for him.

  24. At some point, I would think someone in the clubhouse, another player or the manager would take Happ aside and say “Look, I understand, I really do. But you have to shut up because you’re essentially going in front of the media and saying ‘I’m better than my teammate.’ and that’s not appropriate in any context.”

  25. I see Stoeten’s point but the thing he is missing about this situation…is how to handle it. The way he is handling it so early is NOT whats up.Theres nothing good about it. Show and prove. Thats all this game is about. Showing and proving. I personally would let Romero start in Buffalo instead of Happ as i dont see much changing by the time the season starts. Let Romero get his confidence and shit together for a few more weeks and then bring him up and move 1 to the bullpen.

    I agree with most of the comments tho. Stop. Being. A. Bitch. Happ. How the fuck are you complaining about Buffalo and its only March. WTF man. Its not like he was explicitly good last year or the fucking Astros. For fuck sakes it was the Astros.

  26. Last year I thought it was the heavy anchor of Ace-hood bringing RR down and agreed with Dirk that they hung him out too long, what with the press going up to him and saying things like how does it feel that Dirk said you’re embarrassing … and all kinds of shit like that. I hope they don’t give him enough rope to hang himself … a man can be broken …

    Caution subtle point alert: I’m a day trader and before I became successful I asked my mentor if a loser can become a winner. He said, “No, only winners can do that” There is a gulf that has no distance and neither you nor anyone else can force you across. A pitcher has to be willing to just throw the ball and trust his stuff. If THAT is the problem it is better worked on out of the spotlight(s) … Jolly good luck, RR.

  27. Dear J.A. Happ:

    You have had one good season. In 2011, you were quite a bit below replacement level. Your 2012 was also pretty not-good.

    STFU and pitch.

  28. Dear Ricky Romero:

    Dontrelle Willis called. He wants his career trajectory back.

  29. Ricky is batshit crazy and probably won’t be in the bigs ever again after this season. Happ is a moron. I am excited to see him in the rotation very soon.

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