Free agent reliever Zach Britton has signed a three-year deal with the New York Yankees.
The deal can reach $53 million over four years, as reported by Jon Heyman. The guarantee is for $39 million over three, and Britton can opt out at $26 million over two years. The Yankees can ‘opt in’ for the fourth year after the second season of the contract.
Britton was with the Yankees for the second half of last season after being traded from the Baltimore Orioles. The left-hander was unfortunate to miss out on the Cy Young award in 2016, but he has not shown signs of pitching at that otherworldly level since returning from an injury-riddled 2017.
The Yankees’ bullpen was one of the best in baseball last season. Their reliever ERA was fourth-best in the Majors, and keeping Britton is a step to keeping that strength after losing David Robertson to the Philadelphia Phillies late last week. Britton joins Dellin Betances, Chad Green and Jonathan Holder in the late-inning group before the ball is passed to flamethrowing Aroldis Chapman.
Britton at his best was a groundball machine. His 80% groundball rate in 2016 was a massive contributor to his dominance. That has dropped to the low 70s in 2017 and 2018, but that’s natural after the ludicrous numbers he returned in ’16. His sinker is still getting a lot of weak contact and easy outs.
Britton’s strikeout rate has fluctuated since his injuries, though Steamer predicts it will bounce back in 2019 (their projection has him at 8.74 K/9 after 7.52 last season). Striking batters out with that frequency when inducing so many groundballs is a recipe for sustained success. There are a lot of signs he will remain an elite reliever.
The structing of this contract makes it a balanced deal for player and team. Britton was in line for a huge amount of guaranteed cash a couple of years ago, but this feels fair given his performances last season.
The Yankees could end up with four years of Britton, which is a year extra than the Cardinals will have of Andrew Miller (if they take the team option). Britton got an additional year guaranteed too and has control of his future to an extent. He got a longer deal than Robertson, who is a couple of years older than him, and a slightly higher AAV.
It’s a minor pact compared to what Britton could have received had he stayed healthy. It fits well in the relief pitcher market this offseason.
Like most deals this winter, there’s not much to dislike about this for either party. Britton has flexibility if he’s brilliant, while still getting guaranteed money for three seasons. The Yankees have at least two years of a top-end reliever and could retain a piece of their fearsome 2018 bullpen.