J.A. Happ had to watch from afar last season as his former team came within two wins of reaching the World Series.
Now that he's back with the Blue Jays – signing a three-year, $36-million dollar deal on Friday with the team that traded him to Seattle almost exactly one year ago – the 33-year-old left-hander is hoping Toronto can pick up where they left off last season.
"Seeing what this team did last year, it was fun to watch," Happ said on a conference call Saturday afternoon. "It kind of (made me) want to come back and be a part of that."
"I'm a baseball fan, too," he added. "Watching the energy (in Toronto during the post-season) – the whole time I was there I was like, 'if we could make it to the playoffs this city would be nuts' – and watching that, it was awesome. ... That's what we're hopefully trying to do these next few years is repeat that."
Happ spent 2 1/2 seasons with the Blue Jays from 2012-2014 before being traded for outfielder and Victoria native Michael Saunders on Dec. 3. He was 19-20 with a 4.39 earned-run average in 58 appearances (50 starts) with Toronto.
While his stats with the Mariners were less than optimal – he was 4-6 with a 4.64 ERA through 20 starts – Happ improved drastically once he was traded to the Pirates at the deadline, lowering his ERA to 1.85 and striking out 69 batters over 63 1/3 innings.
Happ attributes that turnaround to a mechanical adjustment he made in Pittsburgh.
"My main goal going over there was to try to get back to throwing the way I was earlier in the year," he said. "Over the course of the season things happen slowly that you may not notice mechanical-wise. So we just tried to correct my angle, use my momentum going towards home plate not third base.
"I felt I had a better angle on the ball and it was coming out more free. That mixed with some success helped the confidence too so I think it was a combination of those things."
Happ fills a rotation spot for the AL East champion Blue Jays, who figure to lose fellow left-handers David Price and Mark Buehrle in free agency. Price, the runner-up for this year's AL Cy Young Award, is expected to command a huge deal.
While the Blue Jays appear to be out on Price after signing Happ, GM Tony LaCava says he's "not ruling anything out" – whether that means staying in on the Price sweepstakes or trying to lock up another front-of-the-line starter.
"Without being specific we've had dialogue with any number of them," LaCava said. "We still have conversations with various free agents and their agents and also with other teams looking through the trade market as well.
"It's still early... we're going to continue to try to improve the club always. I wouldn't rule anything out right now but certainly we did address some of the bigger needs that we had coming in (to the off-season)."
Happ joins a rotation that is likely to include right-handers Marcus Stroman, R.A. Dickey and Marco Estrada – who re-signed with the Blue Jays on a two-year, $26-million free-agent deal earlier this month.
Jesse Chavez, acquired from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for reliever Liam Hendriks last week, could also figure into the starting five, as could Aaron Sanchez and Drew Hutchison.
"J.A. was a priority for us," LaCava said. "When you look at our needs coming into off-season, obviously we had lost quite a few starters and our starting depth was not great. J.A. was identified as a guy who could address that.
"Bringing back Marco Estrada was a big piece of that and then adding Jesse Chavez as well. ... That's 85 starts we've added to our club and we haven't lessened our offence, we haven't given up any draft picks and we haven't traded any prospects.
"We feel like we're off to a good start this off-season."