J.A. Happ agrees to Yankees return — pact could max at 3 years, $51M


LAS VEGAS — J.A. Happ’s imminent return to the Yankees gives the club five starters for five spots. What it doesn’t do is halt the hunt for more.

Happ agreed to a two-year deal with an option on Wednesday that will become official and announced after contract language is worked out.

When done, Happ’s deal will be for two years at $34 million — $17 million each season — with a $17 million 2021 option based on games started or an innings-pitched threshold in 2020. So it could be three years at $51 million if it maxes out.

“It gives me more comfort,’’ general manager Brian Cashman said about adding a starter, but didn’t identify Happ. “It doesn’t mean we would be out of the market altogether. Obviously the [James] Paxton acquisition gave us the ability to be a lot more disciplined and patient. If we pull down another one it will put us in a much stronger position to feel better about the rotation. But that doesn’t preclude us to being open-minded about any options that develop over time.’’

Cashman said filling out the five-man rotation with the 36-year-old Happ allows him focus on other areas. He has been looking for two relievers to work in front of closer Aroldis Chapman and setup man Dellin Betances and an infielder who can play short until Didi Gregorius returns from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

Yet, if another starting candidate surfaces in free agency or a trade, Cashman isn’t going to ignore him simply because he has Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Paxton and Happ.

“If we are able to close the loop on something [Happ], that is not going to preclude me from being open-minded moving forward,’’ Cashman said.

One possibility is 27-year-old free agent lefty Yusei Kikuchi, who some teams view as a reliever after being a starter in eight seasons in Japan, where he went 74-48 with a 2.81 ERA in 163 games (158 starts). Kikuchi could offer rotation insurance while filling one of the two vacancies in the bullpen. Zach Britton, who is being shopped as a closer, and David Robertson are free agents, which created the bullpen openings in The Bronx.