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Grading the Blue Jays return in the J.A. Happ trade with the Yankees

The Yankees keep dealing with AL East rivals, this time adding a pitcher to the rotation and sending the Blue Jays some extra pieces.

MLB: All Star Game
J.A. Happ
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Just a few days after the New York Yankees made a deal with AL East rival Baltimore, they made another deal for a pitcher with the Toronto Blue Jays. For a Yankee team with a strong lineup and now-loaded bullpen, adding a starter to help their rotation was a key. Meanwhile the Blue Jays are buying low on a pair of interesting pieces.

New York Yankees Grade: B+

Receive: SP J.A. Happ

Take a look at the Yankees and what do you see? A loaded lineup featuring two of the most feared sluggers in the game, plus more than 30 homers from their starting middle infielders. A legitimate ace at the front of their rotation. Then there is a loaded bullpen with Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Zach Britton, David Robertson, and Chad Green- all but Green having been an All Star during their careers.

Of course there was something else painfully obvious- the rotation not being very good in the backend. Behind ace Luis Severino, a solid year from 37 year-old C.C. Sabathia, and a fairly average year out of Masahiro Tanaka there hasn’t been much help. Sonny Gray has been a disappointment in the Bronx, Jordan Montgomery has needed Tommy John surgery, and Domingo German hasn’t been very good. No one else has started more than four games, but it was hard to imagine trusting both Luis Cessa and Jonathan Loaisiga to fill in the rest of the way as the Yankees fight to catch the Red Sox for first place.

We’ve reached an age where winning the division is so key to teams that it is worth going all in to achieve, as winning 100+ games and going home after losing a single game as a Wild Card is a tough pill to swallow. The Yankees completely understood that and realized with demanding fans, high end talents on the roster, and extra pieces in the system, that they needed to push for first. They effectively did that today as they continued to part with their excess chips for win now pieces.

J.A. Happ was an All Star this year for Toronto, a bit surprising considering he is 10-6 with a 4.18 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and 130 strikeouts to 35 walks in 114 innings. You don’t often see All Stars with an ERA+ of 101, but that’s what Happ has done.

However it is important to note that the 35 year-old lefty is a solid veteran with postseason experience that will help solidify the Yankees rotation. Happ isn’t going to win a ton of games by himself, but the Yankees aren’t going to ask him to do so. They just need him to pitch five to six innings of solid baseball to keep them in the game so that their lineup and bullpen can do the rest. That is absolutely a role that Happ can perform well in over the next couple of months.

Happ is a nice piece for the Yankees. He helps fill one of the few true negative spots on the team this year while not costing the team anyone in their longterm plans. Giving up an asset like Drury stings a little as it is selling low on a talented young guy, but he never got going and with Miguel Andujar, Didi Gregorius, and Gleyber Torres in place it is hard to imagine him ever getting a chance to play every day in New York.

Toronto Blue Jays Grade: A

Receive: INF Brandon Drury, OF Billy McKinney

J.A. Happ was having a solid year, but he was a free agent at the end of the year and would be 36 next season on a team that was not going to reach the playoffs this season. Dealing him for a pair of quality pieces was definitely the smart move by the Jays.

Brandon Drury never got it going in New York. Originally sent to the Diamondbacks as a prospect in the trade that brought Justin Upton to the Braves, he was sent to the Yankees as part of the three way deal between the Dbacks, Yankees, and Rays this past February. That trade sent Drury to the Yankees, Steven Souza to the Dbacks, and a prospect package led by Anthony Banda to the Rays.

Drury debuted in 2015 in Arizona and played just 20 games, but grew into a regular over the remainder of his time in the desert. In his two years as a regular he averaged 490 plate appearances with a triple slash line of .275/.323/.453 to go with 34 doubles and 14 home runs. He played all over the diamond, getting most of his time at second base, but also filling in at third base, left field, and right field with occasional games at first base and shortstop.

He was never healthy this year and it showed in his production. He has managed just 18 games in the Bronx and hit .176/.263/.275. Between injuries he played in 61 minor league games, mostly in Triple A and hit a combined .292/.403/.444 with 13 doubles and six homers.

I saw Drury live in Triple A and think that he looked solid, like the kind of guy he played as in Arizona. I think his lack of regular playing time in New York led to his struggles, and once he got passed by it was hard for him to regain his spot.

I think this is a perfect buy low candidate for the Blue Jays, a quality hitter that they can put in at second base next to the Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette infield. Unless they look elsewhere to fill the second base job and allow Drury to play that Ben Zobrist type of every day utility man role, where he can excel by getting every day at bats playing multiple positions.

Billy McKinney is the other piece of the deal, a former Top 100 prospect who lost his luster but has seen his stock rise again- though not to the level it once was. This is not the first time he was dealt either, as the former Oakland 2013 first round pick was dealt to the Cubs with Addison Russell and Dan Straily for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel in 2014. He became a Yankee in 2016 as part of the deal which got the Yankees Gleyber Torres for Aroldis Chapman going to the Cubs.

McKinney is a bat first left fielder who is not enough of a hitter to develop into an impact player because of his lack of plus power or speed. He spent 2017 between Double A and Triple A hitting .277/.338/.483 with 29 doubles, 7 triples, and 16 homers, then went to the Arizona Fall League and posted a .279/.373/.426 line with seven extra base hits over 19 games.

This year has been eventful for McKinney, as not only does he find himself traded again, but he made his big league debut with the Yankees. He’s battled some injury and only hit .230/.294/.502 with 8 doubles, 5 triples, and 13 homers in 54 Triple A games. I’ve seen him this year and last, and think that the drop in numbers comes from trying a little too hard to hit for power after a slight power surge in Triple A last summer.

I think McKinney needs to take a step back and focus on what he does best, make good hard contact and let the ball do what it is going to off his bat. He can settle into that role and become a very good fourth outfielder or possible second division regular.