J.A. Happ probably would have opened the season as the most well-compensated pitcher in Triple-A if Ricky Romero hadn’t struggled so mightily this spring. Inserted into the Blue Jays’ rotation instead, Happ struck out six in 5 1/3 innings and combined with three relievers on a two-hit shutout of the Red Sox on Saturday.
The Blue Jays got homers from J.P. Arencibia and Colby Rasmus to account for all of their runs in the 5-0 game.
Rather than retain Happ as a reliever, the Blue Jays were expected to keep him stretched out by letting him lead Triple-A Buffalo’s rotation initially this season. That only changed at the very end of the spring, when they opted to demote Romero instead. Before that, Happ was frustrated enough with his situation that he considered asking for a trade. It’s safe to say he’s a lot happier now; not only did he get the rotation spot, but he received a two-year, $8.9 million contract at the end of March.
It was a miserable day for the Red Sox. Starter John Lackey, making his return from Tommy John surgery, left clutching his arm in the fifth and was diagnosed with a biceps strain that figures to keep him out for some time. His likely replacement in the rotation, Alfredo Aceves, came in and soon afterwards gave up a three-run bomb to Colby Rasmus.
The Red Sox also went 26 outs between hits. Jacoby Ellsbury started the top of the first with a double, but he was left stranded. The next hit came when Dustin Pedroia collected an infield single with two outs in the ninth. Mike Napoli followed that with a drive to the wall in center, only to be robbed by Rasmus.
Around this time last year, the ink was drying on Manny Machado‘s 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres and Bryce Harper was about to put the finishing touches on his 13-year, $330 million deal with the Phillies. We had gotten used to premier free agents hanging out in limbo until late February and even into March. This past offseason, however, was a return to normal. The top three free agents — Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, and Stephen Strasburg — all signed in December. Once the big names are off the board, the lesser free agents subsequently tend to find homes. There were a handful of noteworthy signings in January, but pretty much everyone was off the board when February began.
There are a handful of free agents remaining as I write this, with one name really sticking out: Yasiel Puig. Last season, between the Reds and Indians, Puig hit .267/.327/.458 with 24 home runs, 84 RBI, 76 runs scored, and 19 stolen bases in 611 plate appearances. He was one of only seven players in the league last year to hit at least 24 home runs and swipe at least 19 bases. While Puig has had some problems over the years, he still possesses a rare blend of power and speed that would seem useful.
The Marlins, White Sox, and Rockies have been linked to Puig this offseason. His market has been otherwise quiet since he became a free agent. The Athletic’s Jim Bowden suggests Puig will have to settle for a “pillow contract” — a one-year deal with which Puig reestablishes his market value, aiming to pursue a multi-year deal the following offseason. Along with the aforementioned three teams, Bowden suggests the Mariners, Indians, Pirates, Giants, Red Sox, and Cardinals as other teams that could potentially fit with Puig, which is not to be confused with teams having expressed interest in his services.