After the season he had in 2017, Marcus Stroman was the obvious choice to be the Opening Day starter for the Blue Jays this season. But after his pre-season preparations were set-back due to shoulder inflammation, the right and smart decision was made to push Stroman’s first start back and have J.A Happ start the first game of the year against the Yankees on March 29.
Stroman will have plenty more opportunities over the course of his career to start on Opening Day. Happ on the other hand doesn’t have nearly as many years left to play, and this will actually be the first time he’s had an Opening Day start. Based on what he’s done throughout his 11-year career, especially the past two seasons with Toronto, Happ is every bit as deserving of this special honour.
I remember first hearing about Happ during his rookie season with Philadelphia back in 2009. That year he went on this miracle run, going 12-4 with three complete games in just 23 starts. In fact, when the Blue Jays traded Roy Halladay to the Phillies in December 2009, I was a little disappointed the players they received didn’t include Happ. After that amazing rookie campaign, success in the big leagues didn’t come nearly as easy for Happ though. It wouldn’t be until six long years later in 2015 that he once again started living up to all the promise he showed as a rookie.
The Blue Jays signing Happ after the 2015 season to a 3-year $36-million contract has been by far the best free agent pick-up of the Atkins/Shapiro era. Happ might just be one of the Top 5 free agent signings in Blue Jays history (but that’s a discussion for another day). Without him these past two years, the Blue Jays certainly don’t make the post-season in 2016. And losing him to injury last year was just as big a loss to the roster (albeit for a shorter period of time) as it was losing Donaldson or Sanchez.
Because of age, many teams are hesitant to sign older players these days. Happ meanwhile only seems to be hitting his stride as he gets older and wiser. He doesn’t become a free agent until the off-season, but considering how good he’s looked so far this spring, it might very well be in the Blue Jays best interest to lock-up the big lefty for a few years yet.