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Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Looking back at the Blue Jays’ bizarre trade for J.A. Happ in 2012

2012 was the season most Toronto Blue Jays fans would rather forget. Optically, it was one of the worst years in franchise history.

Let’s go through a quick recap of everything that went horribly wrong during that 2012 season, shall we? Three of the Blue Jays’ starting pitchers went down with major injuries in the span of less than a week. Brandon Morrow had an oblique injury, and then, both Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison went under the knife for Tommy John surgery. Two months into the season, the Blue Jays’ rotation was left in shambles.

The club finished with a 73-89 record, a full 20 games out of a playoff spot. Off the field, the Blue Jays were engrossed in controversy with several members on the team. That summer, Yunel Escobar wrote a homophobic slur in his eyeblack. And at the end of the year, after months of rumours about the Red Sox trying to poach John Farrell, he eventually flew the coop to Boston.

Amongst all that mess in 2012, for whatever reason, the Blue Jays decided to acquire J.A. Happ, like that was the transaction that was somehow supposed to stop the bleeding. Back in 2013, Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star dubbed it the “worst deal ever by Alex Anthopoulos“.

In order to patch up their depleted rotation, Alex Anthopoulos swung a 10-player deal with the Houston Astros for J.A. Happ, Brandon Lyon and David Carpenter. The Blue Jays sent back Francisco “Coco” Cordero, Ben Francisco, Joe Musgrove, Asher Wojciechowski, David Rollins, Carlos Perez and Kevin Comer.

At the time, I remember feeling pretty indifferent about the trade. Trades involving that much personnel usually involve some sort of sexy prospect or a high-impact player going one way or another. Unfortunately, that particular transaction had none of those things.

The salaries between the Major Leaguers involved in the deal were essentially a wash. If I remember correctly, the Astros took on the rest of Cordero’s $4.5 million salary and Francisco’s $1.5 million, while the Jays picked up the remainder of Lyon’s $5.5 million contract.

Sure, J.A. Happ was an improvement compared to internal starters like Brett Cecil and Aaron Laffey, but did he warrant giving up five prospects for him? Happ had two-plus years of team control remaining, so even though he wasn’t going to help the Jays compete in 2012, at least he could be pencilled in as a mid-rotation starter for the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

But that’s not what happened. At least, not right away. The Blue Jays acquired Happ under the pretences that he’d be a part of their starting rotation, but he began his tenure in Toronto as a reliever. Yes, the Blue Jays used Happ out of the bullpen during his first four appearances.

It wasn’t until Brett Cecil went on the disabled list that a rotation spot opened up for Happ. He started six games down the stretch of the 2012 campaign but finished the year on the DL with a fractured foot.

Then, the whirlwind 2012 offseason unfolded.

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All of a sudden, the Blue Jays went from the laughingstock of the American League to a World Series favourite. The horror of the 2012 season was a distant memory as the team pulled off one of the most exciting offseasons in franchise history.

The Blue Jays had a minor problem, though. After acquiring three starting pitchers in two separate blockbuster trades – R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle – Happ was at the bottom of the Blue Jays’ starting depth chart. Despite the Blue Jays giving up a whole lot to get Happ at the 2012 trade deadline, he slotted in as the club’s sixth starter behind Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero.

However, an injury to Romero led to an opening for Happ and he broke camp as the team’s fifth starter. The Blue Jays avoided arbitration with Happ and re-signed him prior to the start of the 2013 season. The club added an option year to his final year of arbitration, which potentially secured him through the 2015 season.

Later that year, Happ was struck on the head by a line drive and miraculously returned to the club in early August and finished out the 2013 season under his own volition. Happ’s 2014 season was nothing special, but he made it through the full schedule, racking up 158 innings in 30 starts. The Blue Jays then traded him to the Seattle Mariners for Michael Saunders during the 2014 offseason.

Looking back, nobody really laments the Happ trade from 2012. Was anyone begging the Blue Jays to clutch onto prospects like Musgrove or Wojciechowski? At the time, the club didn’t part with any of their Top 10 prospects. Giving up five lottery tickets may have seemed like a worthwhile gamble.

Musgrove ultimately developed into a decent reliever and looks to be the most successful of the crop of players the Blue Jays parted with in the trade. After a brief Major League stint, Wojciechowski is toiling in Triple-A with the Orioles. Rollins is playing in Independent League Baseball, Perez is with his third Major League team and Comer is in Triple-A with the Tigers.

If anything, it wasn’t the quality of prospects the Blue Jays gave up, it was the quantity. Wiping five players off the board in a trade for a mid-rotation starter is almost sacrilege in today’s era of prospect hoarding. While most of those players sent to Houston didn’t amount to very much, one wonders whether including them in the Happ deal precluded the Jays from using those prospects in a bigger or better deal.

Ultimately, I think Anthopoulos was looking at the long view when the Jays went out and unexpectedly reeled in Happ ahead of the 2012 trade deadline. Both Drabek and Hutchison were gone with major injuries for at least one year and the club needed to fill that starting depth somehow.

Happ was rumoured to be a target of the Blue Jays during the Roy Halladay trade negotiations with the Phillies, and as we all know, once Anthopoulos had his sights set on a trade target, he usually acquired them … even if it was years after the fact.

In the end, this trade worked for the Blue Jays, not really in the first phase, but more so in the second one. Happ stated one of the reasons why he re-signed with the Jays during the 2015 offseason was because of the relationship he developed with pitching coach, Pete Walker.

But given where the Blue Jays were in the standings at the time and the calibre of players involved in that deal, can you think of a more underwhelming trade that involved that many bodies? I can’t.

  • Magicaleigh

    IIRC, a good chunk of the prospects involved were traded because of a looming 40 man roster crunch. It was a way to cull marginal prospects without losing them for nothing.

  • Rob Ray

    Well, uh, that’s sort of how it went. At the time of the trade, the Jays were 46-47. They still had 69 games left and trailed Baltimore by 4 games in the loss column for the second wild card spot. 3 days before, Jose Bautithad injured his wrist in New York and was placed on the DL. At the time, the magnitude of his injury was unknown, but in hindsight, he missed all but 2 games the rest of the season, encompassing all of 5 plate appearences. The club was still 51-49 after 100 games, going 5-2 the first week after the trade. Without Bautista, the team began to slide and other teams took advantage of the hole in the Jays line up. Even with the infusion of pitching to help the club, they went on a 5-21 slide, dropping their record to 55-70, removing any possibility of a wild card and Bautista, who had appeared in two games on August 24 and 25 was shut down for the season and eventually needed wrist surgery. At the time the trade was made in infuse some starting pitching the club was very much alive in the wild card. It was hardly a pointless trade. Had the severity of Bautista’s injury been known right away, they may not have made the deal, we’ll never know. The wheels didn’t come off the 2012 Blue Jays until after the first of August.