LAS VEGAS — In the final working hours of the annual MLB Winter Meetings, the Yankees were finalizing a two-year deal to bring veteran lefty J.A. Happ back into the fold, a team source confirmed to the News.
The deal, which includes a vesting option, is pending a physical, the source said. The Yankees are expected to announce the signing next week.
With time running out on a pretty boring Winter Meetings, the Yankees were able to check off the top need on Brian Cashman’s to-do list, giving him two added starters — including James Paxton, whom he acquired from the Mariners earlier this offseason — and a sense of “comfort.”
But it was definitely not going to be a sense of accomplishment.
While Cashman would not comment on the Happ deal, he did say that would not keep the Yankees from being open to other possible deals on starters.
“It gives me more comfort. It doesn’t mean that we would be out of the market all together,” Cashman said. “Obviously, the Paxton acquisition gave us the ability to be a lot more disciplined and patient, less stress. If we can pull down another one it’ll put us in a much stronger position to feel better about the rotation, clearly. But that doesn’t preclude us from being open minded to any other options that develop over time. In the meantime, it does allow us to pivot and focus further on other aspects of our roster, too.”
The Yankees were also linked to Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard in a three-way deal with the Marlins, but that possible deal died quickly. The Yankees would still be interested in Syndergaard, but a team source described that “extremely unlikely.”
Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, who has described his week as “busy,” but has not secured any deals here, has said it would take an overwhelming return to get them to part with the hard-throwing 26-year old right-hander who is under team control for the next three years.
But, Van Wagenen did acknowledge that he had been talking to Cashman repeatedly about different scenarios since taking over as the team’s GM . He acknowledged that indicates there would be a willingness to make an intra-city deal at some point.
“Brian and I have had a lot of discussions about a lot of different things. I don’t think he would waste my time and I wouldn’t waste his time without an appetite in doing this and seeing where we line up,” Van Wagenen said. “Whether this happens this offseason or this week, time will tell. I certainly don’t think there will be closed doors for us to work together.”
But with the Yankees securing a full rotation, and saving some cash on a starter after missing out on Patrick Corbin, they are turning their focus on other areas of need. Cashman, who called his front office a “fully operational Death Star” on Wednesday when not ruling out a pursuit of Bryce Harper, will reportedly meet with top free agent Manny Machado in the Bronx soon.
The Yankees also need to fill in some bullpen arms as well.
But Happ gives the Yankees a reliable veteran lefty who was effective for them in the second half of last season. He went 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA in 11 starts. He struggled in a very short playoff start against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, but was on a remarkably short leash that night. He has a familiarity and long history of success in the American League East.
“He was a performer, he took the ball every five days, he was a competitor,” Cashman said. “He came as advertised. A real pro. Had a veteran presence within that clubhouse. Knew exactly what was necessary and brought it every five days in the most competitive division in all of baseball in the world.
“So, he checks all the boxes on that side of it. Clearly, that’s why he’s an attractive target in free agency,” Cashman said. “He’s made himself that and he’s done that consistently for quite some time.”