But don’t take the haters’ bait here. Don’t freak out. Don’t “Same Old Yankees” us.
Because you all know it could’ve been so much worse in so many ways.
Britton will be shut down for sometime between six weeks and two months — which is likely a bit longer than a typical bone spur patient, considering he’d already battled weakness and a bout of COVID this offseason. It may not be until midsummer when he returns, but the UCL is intact. The problem has been identified. If you’re still angry, we recommend a deep breath and a chopped cheese.
Even if Britton’s absence isn’t ticketed for 162 games, though, there are still additional bullpen roles to be sorted out internally.
Aren’t you glad Justin Wilson just happened to be available late in the winter?
That maneuver looms large now, and the Yankees’ quartet of established back-end arms still looms. A few other pieces will have to shift up one notch, though, and an extra participant in spring training will now get a roster spot (Lucas Luetge? Short bullpen and Jay Bruce?).
Britton himself, in an extremely composed press conference prior to going under the knife, happened to single out a few pitchers who he believes will help fill his void over the season’s first few months. With another name added — since we know how the Yankees operate and who they promote — these three pitchers seem most likely to benefit in the pecking order with Britton gone.
As long as they step up, that is.
These 3 Yankees need to step up without Zack Britton.
3. Nick Nelson
Every external scout’s favorite Yankees reliever, Nick Nelson, has a golden opportunity ahead of him to not only make the team but make a large-scale impact.
In fact, on Wednesday morning, Britton called Nelson someone who could ‘”really impact [the Yankees’] bullpen” — and he’d know.
The 25-year-old wasn’t a reliever at any point before arriving in the Bronx in 2020, a season in which his final numbers (4.79 ERA, 5.56 FIP) may have belied his flashier moments on the mound.
Those gutsy individual efforts, backed by upper echelon stuff, proved there was back-end talent there. Think specifically of…well, his debut, which featured three shutout middle innings in the second game of a series against the Boston Red Sox. Nelson was entrusted to hold a three-run lead and came away with the official win, striking out four (and walking a pair) in three hitless innings.
Will he be a starter at some point? He has the repertoire of one, but New York seems fairly enamored with trying him out in the ‘pen first. They’ve had no trepidation about reducing his innings in this manner, hoping his stuff continues to play up in shorter and shorter stints.
Though he’ll still enter 2021 behind the “big four” on the pecking order, many agree Nelson has the best chance of cracking the upper echelon, and at least grabbing the Jonathan Holder innings in instances of fatigue.
Based on his offhand comment, Britton himself seems to agree.