Whenever the 2021 season ends, the New York Yankees will be left with two veteran back-end bullpen arms making a grand total of $32 million between them next year.
Though there’ve been some typical bumps along the way (fine, an entire month of bumps, minimum), Aroldis Chapman (an escalating $18 million next season) has largely been (gulps) an All-Star, and the best version of the 2022 Yankees likely has him available for the ninth inning, hopefully performing to his potential. The contract is toothsome, but trading Chapman feels like a non-starter.
Then there’s Zack Britton, whose $14 million team option for 2022 had to be picked up prior to the 2021 season, and was, leaving us to believe the Yankees would be high rollers this season. After all, if they’re willing to pay that much for an aging seventh-inning guy, what wouldn’t they pay for?
Um…they wouldn’t pay for much, actually. They conned the Cubs and Rangers into paying for players they traded away. It’s a whole thing.
Britton’s certainly less of a guarantee to be on the 2022 roster than Chapman. If the Yankees truly want to be like the Rays (and it seems like they do!), then paying this combined price for two non-sure-thing relievers is inadvisable.
Heck, the Rays would’ve cut bait already. Their arm factory has already replaced Diego Castillo mid-stretch run.
This season, we’ve already seen the shine come off Britton’s left arm, as the man himself has admitted to struggling with perseverance through his various injuries and rehabilitations. He’s simply not there yet, and isn’t ready to be a reliable high-leverage option. Will next season be much easier?
So, where does Britton go? Which on-the-verge contender seems ready to fortify their bullpen at any cost, and has enough of a need that they’d put semi-blind faith in a Britton rebound?
Enter: the Toronto Blue Jays.
Now, we already know how this is going to go. The same fans who’ve screamed until their forehead veins have emerged about how useless Britton has been this year will immediately act like the Jays got the steal of the century. “Couldn’t Cashman find ANY other taker?!” Then, when Britton blows a save against the Yankees in June, they’ll go right back to taunting him. Extremely predictable pathway incoming.
Will it work? If the Blue Jays can be conned into taking on Brad Hand at this year’s deadline, maybe they really can be talked into anything.
Hand was supposed to shut down the AL East, not fire them up? I don’t understand.
If the Yankees can get the Jays to absorb all of Britton’s $14 million, they’re looking at a mid-20s top prospect in exchange for the final season of his deal. Perhaps outfielder Josh Palacios or upper-level lefty arm Adrian Hernandez? If the Yankees eat half the remaining salary, maybe they can bump that prospect up to the 15-20 range.
But why would the Yankees do that? Clear that money, please, and make better decisions with it than Darren O’Day and Justin Wilson.
The Yankees have far more controllable ‘pen arms at the forefront of their plans now than they did back in the spring when Britton was first lost. Clay Holmes has arrived and impressed. Jonathan Loaisiga has blown us all away. Chad Green (as long as he abandons the curveball) is still here, rocking and rolling. Chapman’s likely stuck.
Finding a new home for Britton could give the Yankees plenty of financial flexibility (and roster flexibility) this offseason. They’d better hope he rediscovers the control of his sinker in August and September, both to aid them down the stretch and convince buyers, like Toronto, to take a chance on the lefty leader.