In the offseason, when their avenue to the starting pitcher they wanted, Shohei Ohtani, was blocked, the Yankees quickly pivoted, not with another starter, but by adding to what already was a surplus of outfield and righty power and acquiring Giancarlo Stanton.
The Yankees are pretty positive now that the type of starter they hunger for in this trade market — a Jacob deGrom or Madison Bumgarner — will never be available to them. And they have pivoted to further strengthen what already is perhaps the strongest unit, not just on their team, but in the majors — their bullpen.
The Yankees acquired Zach Britton from the Orioles on Tuesday for pitching prospects Cody Carroll, Dillon Tate and Josh Rogers.
They still need a starter and still intend to add one before next Tuesday’s 4 p.m. non-waiver deadline. But it is going to be more a mid-to-back-end type such as Toronto’s J.A. Happ or Minnesota’s Lance Lynn. With that the case, they jumped on Britton for a variety of reasons:
He was pitching better. Britton, who missed the first 2 ¹/₂ months rehabbing a torn right Achilles tendon, had a 7.04 ERA in his first eight appearances back and did not yield a run in his last eight. Scouts who have seen him recently said the sinker that made him indomitable from 2014-16 is nearly back in full at 94-97 mph with vicious downward action.“Someone is going to get a really fresh pitcher,” one AL executive said. “He has really begun to look like Zach Britton.”
Yankees closing in on Orioles reliever Zach Britton
The Yankees traded from an area of depth. They had talked extensively with the Orioles about Manny Machado and were told Baltimore wanted pitching back, which left the Yankees somewhat surprised when Machado went to the Dodgers and the big piece the Orioles got back was a high-end outfield prospect.But the Yankees now knew what the Orioles liked in their system, and it was the area from which they wanted to deal. The Yankees face a 40-man roster glut this offseason, mainly because of the number of starters they have to consider putting on it or risk losing in the December Rule 5 draft. Caroll, Rogers and Tate all were in that realm.
Carroll is a power-throwing Triple-A reliever. Rogers is a Triple-A lefty starter who depends more on repertoire and command over power. Tate was the fourth pick in the 2015 draft, whom the Yankees obtained in July 2016 from Texas for Carlos Beltran. Tate has a good fastball-slider combo, and scouts are split if he will be a back-end starter or setup man.
The Yankees deepened their pitching staff. If they are unable to get a top starter, they now have yet another quality reliever to add to Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Chad Green, Jonathan Holder and David Robertson to a) help rescue starters earlier if need be and b) add another trustworthy arm to not further overburden the current group.
The Yankees kept Britton away from the Astros and Red Sox, teams, along with the Cubs, who were believed to be among the strongest pursuers. First quest: Help yourself. Second: Hurt your foes if possible.
The Yankees will energize their current clubhouse. A veteran executive like Brian Cashman knows that once players put themselves in position to have a special season, they look to baseball operations to honor that work by upgrading the roster. Britton should provide a boost because he is not just an addition, but a potentially mammoth one. The Yanks owe him about $4.5 million of his $12 million salary. They were projected at about $181 million before the move, so they are still well under the $197 million luxury-tax threshold in pursuing a starter.
The Yankees pivoted strongly toward Britton in the past 24-48 hours, and when combined with Machado going to the Dodgers and Brad Hand to the Indians, the three biggest players likely to be traded this July have been dealt a week before the deadline. That will allow teams to apply greater focus to what remains, not having to worry about keeping certain prospects out of deals just in case they could land a huge fish.