Zach Britton

Britton deal gives Yankees even more options

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The New York Yankees acquired left-handed relief pitcher Zach Britton from the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. The deal saw pitchers Dillon Tate, Cody Carroll and Josh Rogers go the other way.

Tate, a starting pitcher, was the Yankees’ ninth prospect per MLB Pipeline while reliever Carroll was 15th on their list. Rogers is a 23-year-old starter, who has been in AAA this year. His ERA is a shade under four, but 6.8 k/9 suggests a limited potential at the big league level.

Balitmore received an underwhelming haul. Britton is one of the elite bullpen arms in the game, and attracted interest from the majority of the contenders. Britton’s lack of command since returning from the disabled list (5.7 BB/9) might have driven down his price a little, but the interest from the Yankees, Astros, Red Sox and others suggested a bidding war. Having flipped their two best players as a lengthy rebuild begins, the Orioles have not brought in any surefire prospects.

Building on a strength

The Yankees already boasted one of the best bullpens in the majors. Led by Aroldis Chapman, Aaron Boone has a plethora of flamethrowers at his disposal. Adding Britton to the mix should ease the workload of Chapman and others.

The 27-time World Series winners are expected to continue their chase for a starting pitcher. The fourth spot in their rotation is a glaring weak spot with Sonny Gray struggling desperately. Chris Archer and J.A. Happ have been mentioned, but the price remains high on both. Reluctance to give up Miguel Andujar, Estevan Florial or Chance Adams is understandable.

Britton gives the Yankees options in this regard. Moving for a starter remains highly likely, but there is the possibility – albeit a very remote one – that this immense New York bullpen takes over from a fourth starter in the playoffs. This would be a gamble from the front office (can you imagine the fury if it didn’t work?), and they would still have the issue of catching Boston to avoid the relative lottery of a wildcard game.

Trades remain likely

Working out a deal, probably involving Brandon Drury, for another starter is by far the most likely outcome in the Bronx. It makes the most sense, really, but Britton enhances what was already a great strength. Bullpens make the difference in October, this would just be stretching that a little further. ‘Bullpenning’ should enable the Yankees to retain the majority of their farm, too.

Justus Sheffield, who has been dominant in AA and AAA this year, looms large at the deadline. Sheffield is yet to start a major league game, but there’s every chance he could perform better than Gray has done this year.

Trading for a proven major league starter is the safest option. The arrival of Britton, along with their playoff cushion, allows greater risk taking in the remainder of the regular and postseason. The Yankees window is just beginning, holding off trading away much more of their deep farm might limit their chances in 2018, but it could enable dominance for years to come.

The Britton deal is probably just the start of Yankee activity ahead of the non-waiver deadline at the end of July. Even if Britton is far from his historic 2016 self, this is a massive move for the Yankees. It makes their bullpen yet deeper, and perhaps just as importantly, stops Boston or Houston adding a potentially dominant lefty out of the ‘pen.