TAMPA — J.A. Happ put an end to his free agency in December by returning to the Yankees.
Though the lefty starter has already reported to camp early, many of his fellow free agents remain unsigned with spring training officially set to begin across the league next week.
“It is surprising. It’s surprising and it’s disappointing,” Happ said Friday after completing another informal workout at the Yankees’ minor league facility. “I know we’re working on ways to change this, but it’s frustrating for sure to see all the quality guys out there that can help teams win not being signed this close to spring. It’s a bummer.”
While Bryce Harper and Manny Machado loom as the biggest prizes for teams willing to pay the price, they are far from the only ones left on the market. Pitchers such as Dallas Keuchel, Gio Gonzalez and Craig Kimbrel and position players including Marwin Gonzalez, Mike Moustakas and Adam Jones have all yet to find homes.
Earlier this week, manager Aaron Boone said he considered the Yankees roster complete before managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner on Thursday left the door slightly open for the team to dip back into the free-agent pool. As it stands, they will head into camp having signed Happ, Zack Britton, CC Sabathia, Adam Ottavino, Brett Gardner, DJ LeMahieu and Troy Tulowitzki to their 40-man roster.
For Happ, returning to the Yankees on a two-year, $34 million contract provided the “best case of everything.”
“The biggest pro coming back here was the fact that I was able to spend two months here and learn what the team’s about, learn some of the players and get to know them,” Happ said. “I know that [the Yankees are] all in every year trying to win a championship. Especially at this stage in my career, that’s a big motivating factor. That was big.”
Happ fit right in with the Yankees last year after coming over in a July trade from the Blue Jays for Brandon Drury and Billy McKinney. The 36-year-old delivered by going 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA in 11 starts to finish the regular season before taking the loss in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Red Sox, when he allowed five runs in two innings.
With former Mariners teammate James Paxton joining the rotation this year, Happ is cautiously optimistic about its potential.
“I like it, but I’ve also been around long enough to know that it doesn’t matter what anybody says on Day 1,” Happ said. “I think the biggest thing for us is staying healthy. I certainly like what Pax can bring to the table if he stays healthy. I played with him in Seattle a couple years ago and saw the glimpses there. I was on the other side last year when he threw a no-hitter against us [the Blue Jays]. So that’s exciting.”
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