Brian Cashman Endorses J.A. Happ as Yankees' No. 5 Starter

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Heading into this offseason, the Yankees had plenty of questions to answer regarding their pitching staff -- a unit that was viewed as a weakness in 2019.

Now, with just over two months to go until Opening Day, New York's stating rotation appears to be set.

Yankees' general manager Brian Cashman revealed on Thursday that left-hander J.A. Happ is the favorite to start the season in the rotation's fifth spot. 

“We're extremely confident [in the rotation], especially our top four,” Cashman said YES Network's "Hot Stove" program. “I do think that Happ is going to even be better for us than he was in the first half of last year. I think you'll see more of the second-half Happ, so we look forward to him proving that with us in 2020.”

Happ, 37, had an up-and-down season in 2019, finishing the campaign with a 4.91 ERA over 30 starts. Only Masahiro Tanaka made more starts among Yankee pitchers.

The left-hander's main problem last year was that he gave up too many home runs, surrendering at least one in all but six of his first 26 starts. He finished with 34 homers allowed, tied for the sixth-most in the majors.

As Cashman said, "second-half Happ" -- and more specifically, September Happ -- was a completely different story. In his five September appearances, Happ allowed a total of five runs in 27 1/3 innings. His ERA in the season's final month was a spectacular 1.65 -- three runs lower than any other single month all season long. 

Happ wasn't always presumed to be a part of the Yankees' 2020 staff. Owed $17 million next year -- with a vesting option for 2021 with the same monetary figure if he can eclipse the 165-inning mark or start 27 games this coming season -- the southpaw's name had popped up in trade speculation earlier this winter.

Those discussions reached their peak as New York added $36 million to the club's payroll each year for close to the next decade in a record deal to reel in the most coveted arm on the free-agent market, Gerrit Cole

Subtracting Happ's salary -- a two-year, $34 million pact agreed upon following the 2018 season -- would have given the Yankees some financial flexibility. With Cole's monster deal -- in addition to Giancarlo Stanton's salary of $26 million this year -- the Yankees currently have the highest payroll in all of Major League Baseball ($217,780,714).

The organization, however, evidently intends to keep Happ around. At least for now.  

As Cole slots in as the team's clear-cut ace, Happ rounds out the rotation behind Luis Severino, James Paxton and Tanaka. Although the veteran has the job at the moment, the Yankees have more starting pitching depth than they've had in recent years. Left-hander Jordan Montgomery is poised for a healthy return to the big-league roster after missing all of 2019 recovering from Tommy John surgery, and top prospect Deivi Garcia patiently awaits his major league debut.

Domingo German -- who led New York's rotation this past season with 18 wins -- will miss the first 63 games of the 2020 season as part of an 81-game suspension. Earlier this month, the 27-year-old received the fourth-longest punishment in MLB history under the Major League Baseball’s Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy.

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