When we heard the rumblings that Yankees setup man Zack Britton’s elbow injury would require a second opinion (and potentially a third) with regard to a surgical solution, our first thought was what a sad and thudding ending this would be to his career in pinstripes.
Always a valued clubhouse guy and a powerhouse arm, when Britton tweeted the Statue of Liberty emoji to indicate he was coming home this offseason for the next two years, it was hard not to be ecstatic.
Now, it seems likely he’s thrown his final pitch in the uniform a year ahead of schedule, which is not the way this was supposed to end.
If Britton does get the worst possible news and surgery is recommended, that doesn’t only throw off the 2021 Yankees’ pursuit of a championship. It also heavily impacts their ability to maneuver the roster this offseason.
Because, even if Britton’s injury was only season-ending but had no affect on 2022, last Thursday might’ve been his final Yankee game regardless.
His contract certainly looks more burdensome after the troubled year he’s just put together, a roller coaster streak that culminated with the ex-closer asking out of all save opportunities.
Yankees LHP Zack Britton’s surgery would derail their offseason.
Earlier this spring, it appeared Britton might be headed for Tommy John surgery after nebulous elbow pain sidelined him early in the proceedings. Instead, the result was a procedure to remove a bone chip, which kept him on the shelf until the early summer, and torpedoed his effectiveness and rhythm once he arrived.
Britton’s season was interrupted repeatedly by both bruises and bouts of wildness, and he spent more time this season serving as a cautionary tale about paying aging relievers than he did as a lockdown bullpen option.
If the Yankees really intended to operate like their heroes the Tampa Bay Rays this offseason, then trading Britton to a contender to clear some portion of his $14 million salary seemed like a safe bet. After all, they’ve largely persevered without him, turning lottery tickets like Clay Holmes and Wandy Peralta into late-inning safety nets.
If Britton’s injury is as bad as feared, though, and he needs Tommy John, his salary will plop itself onto the Yanks’ books, serving as a haunting missed opportunity. Even if he’s not knocked out for 2022, the uncertainty surrounding his health will make a trade far more difficult to execute.
The Yankees’ best-case scenario for 2021 included the trusted and well-liked Britton holding down the eighth inning and serving as the occasional emergency closer, showing over and over why he’s well-versed in handling pressure.
The worst case? An up-and-down year that’s mostly down, culminating in a depressing injury that removes the team’s escape clause. Looks like we might be headed there instead.