Brian Cashman sees J.A. Happ as leader in Yankees rotation race

After the Yankees signed Gerrit Cole in December, there was much speculation J.A. Happ may be headed elsewhere in a trade, but GM Brian Cashman indicated Thursday the left-hander would stick around.

“I’m extremely confident [in the Yankees’ rotation], especially the top four,’’ Cashman said Thursday on YES Network’s “Yankees Hot Stove.” “Obviously, I do think Happ is gonna be better for us than he was in the first half last year.”

Cashman pointed to Happ’s improvement in the second half and said he was looking forward to seeing what he could do in 2020. Happ gave up five runs in 27 ¹/₃ innings in his final five regular-season appearances — four starts. But he didn’t make any starts in the postseason.

For the season, Happ tossed 161 ¹/₃ innings last year with a 4.91 ERA, the second-highest of his career.

He also allowed 34 home runs, tied for the sixth-most in the game. And while he was hurt by Yankee Stadium’s short right-field porch, Happ still allowed 16 homers on the road.

The 37-year-old Happ is set to make $17 million this season, and if he throws 165 innings or makes 27 starts, he’ll make another $17 million in 2021, so shipping him elsewhere would help the Yankees offset some of the investment they made in Cole.

The Yankees still have the option of adding prospects to a deal in order to get another team to take on more of Happ’s salary, especially in the wake of the nine-year, $324 million deal they handed Cole in December.

Happ would slot in behind Cole, Luis Severino, James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka, as the Yankees won’t have Domingo German to open the season following German’s suspension for violating MLB’s domestic-violence policy. German will be out until May.

They have some potential starting depth with Jordan Montgomery healthy after coming back from Tommy John surgery, as well as Jonathan Loaisiga and minor leaguers Deivi Garcia and Mike King.

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