While the Yankees remain in a battle with the Rays for first place in the AL East, another issue continues to linger with one of their own players, as J.A. Happ expressed disappointment about how he’s been used this season.
The 37-year-old said Tuesday “it’s pretty clear” what’s going on between him and the team.
Happ has a $17 million vesting option for next season that would have kicked in if he made either 27 starts or pitched 165 innings. In this abbreviated season, that pro-rates to 10 starts or 61 ⅓ innings.
It’s against MLB rules to purposefully manipulate usage to keep a player from vesting an option.
On Tuesday, Happ said of his next start that it was his “understanding it won’t be until Saturday,” the Yankees’ fourth game back from after their series at Citi Field was postponed due to two COVID cases involving the Mets.
Asked if he thought the lack of activity might be related to the vesting option, Happ said, “You guys [in the media] are pretty smart. It doesn’t take too much to figure out, sort of, what could be going on.”
The Yankees could make the argument that starting Gerrit Cole on Tuesday, Masahiro Tanaka on Wednesday — they’re the only starters the team had announced as of Tuesday afternoon — and perhaps Jordan Montgomery on Friday following Thursday’s off-day, gives them the best chance of winning.
Still, Happ wondered if there was more to it.
“I know I’m healthy and have been healthy and ready to pitch since what would have been [the beginning of] the regular season and since summer camp and the start of the abbreviated season,’’ Happ said. “I’ve been ready to go in all those cases with no issues.”
He had his best performance of the season in his previous outing, when he limited the Red Sox to one run in 5 ⅔ innings on Aug. 16. Even then, he was pulled after 75 pitches.
“I feel really good about how the last one went and I was anxious to get out for the next one,’’ Happ said. “I’m certainly disappointed it will take some time to get to the next one. I’m trying to do everything I can to stay ready.”
When asked if the situation presented a distraction for him, Happ said, “It’s hard to quantify an answer for that. It weighs on me to some extent, but when I come in here I try to continue be a good teammate and prepare to be ready and be professional and that stuff. But when I’m away [from the park], it certainly can creep in and has taken a lot of thought… At this point, I need to leave that on the backburner and let that play out how it might.”
The trade deadline is Monday and when asked if he wanted to remain with the Yankees, Happ replied, “I love my teammates in that room and want to go out there and compete with them. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be. I want to be out there with them.”
At this point, it doesn’t look like he’ll be out there enough to see that $17 million option kick in.