Yankees’ Brian Cashman fires back at disgruntled J.A. Happ

J.A. Happ took a shellacking Saturday before he even stepped on the Yankee Stadium mound.

Just moments before the Yankees and Mets resumed their Subway Series, Brian Cashman unloaded on his starting pitcher in response to the veteran left-hander’s recent insinuations that the Yankees were manipulating their starting rotation to prevent Happ from vesting his $17 million option for next season.

“He did not have a good season last year. He had a poor season last year, and he’s gotten out of the gate not very successful for us this year,” Cashman said of Happ, who was making his first start Saturday since August 5. “We’re certainly hopeful he can step up and pitch well for us today and help us win a game, but it’s pure baseball.

“You get a chance to play more with positive performance and you get the chance to play less with negative performance. It’s as simple as that. We’re not trying to complicate anything. Our job is to try to win baseball games and put the best players out there on the field under those circumstances, nothing more, nothing less.”

Happ, who posted a 4.91 ERA last year and took a 6.39 mark into Saturday’s start, drew Cashman’s ire Tuesday when he said it was “pretty clear” why the Yankees were starting him fourth out of their extended break that resulted from the Mets’ two coronavirus cases wiping out last weekend’s Subway Series. When a reporter asked Happ if he thought his schedule tied into his vesting option, the pitcher replied, “You guys [in the media] are pretty smart. It doesn’t take too much to figure out, sort of, what could be going on.”

Brian Cashman (l) and J.A. HappAP, Getty

Cashman, referring to the five-day break that included the postponed Subway Series, a scheduled off day and a rainout in Atlanta, said, “That time frame had us reset the clock. So … you’re going to start your best starters and give them the ball as often as you possibly can in this shortened season. And unfortunately because of how we evaluate our rotation — and I think objectively how anybody would look at based on J.A. Happ’s performance last year and this year so far in the regular season, he slots toward the back of that rotation. And that’s all we’re doing.”

The original terms of the two-year, $34-million deal that Happ signed in December 2018 called for the vesting option to activate with 27 starts or 165 innings pitched. In this COVID-shortened season, those numbers would be prorated to 10 starts or 61 ¹/₃ innings, However, Happ’s contract was one of a handful that didn’t get blessed by a collectively bargained deal last month between the players and owners, meaning that his options wouldn’t necessarily vest at the prorated numbers. The Yankees and Happ could renegotiate new terms, or Happ could file a grievance to try to get his money.

Either way, Happ appears very unlikely to reach his desired targets. Saturday marked just his fourth start, and he began the day with 12 ²/₃ innings pitched as the Yankees’ season reached the 30th game, its halfway point.