Yankees waiting on looming Zack Britton decision as things get weird

The last time Yankees fans saw Zack Britton, he wasn’t quite himself. In 2020, Britton was a core member of the team’s three-headed monster; even after the rest of the bullpen had lost reliability, Chad Green, Aroldis Chapman and Britton were at least somewhat trusted.

By the summer of 2021, though, Britton was clearly being nagged by elbow issues, and expressed discomfort with the closer role around the time of the Yankees’ Field of Dreams loss, a difficult-to-stomach spectacle on a national stage.

Britton succumbed to Tommy John surgery not long after, having a procedure (which was originally reported as “experimental,” but which the lefty insists was closer to the standard) on Sept. 9, 2021, also having a bone chip removed in the process.

Now, just a few months from free agency, Britton claims he’s ready to return, well ahead of the estimated schedule. He’s completed his rehab stint across several minor-league levels (Tampa/Somerset/Scranton), totaling 6.2 innings of 7-strikeout ball with a 1.35 ERA and 0.90 WHIP.

The veteran has even gotten better as he’s risen, posting 4.1 shutout innings across the upper levels after faltering in his initial rehab in Florida (which, you might recall, he shut down and gave fans a scare before restarting). Eyewitness reports say Britton’s stuff is down a tick, but the results are there.

But things are complicated this time of year. And so, as of Wednesday, Britton’s kind of just … sitting around Yankee Stadium waiting for the team to jettison a familiar name and give him a wave. It’s unclear whether or not this will happen.

Yankees to activate Scott Effross, Zack Britton to join him…at some point…?

Last week, the Yankees were playing a potentially-exciting, but likely cumbersome rehab roster game, packing Double-A Somerset’s roster with Britton, Chapman and Miguel Castro, while knowing full well that they’d have a difficult time fitting all of them — or possibly any of them — on an October roster.

With just over two weeks to go until the big show, the Yankees seem prepared to welcome fellow rehabber Scott Effross (and possible immediate closer?) back to the big-league roster on Thursday.

When will Britton follow? Over the weekend, when Domingo Germán will be filling Frankie Montas’ shoes? And if he returns — which Joel Sherman seems to think he will, while others seem more skeptical — which surer thing will he be replacing?

Nothing is locked up for the Yankees yet; their lead over Toronto is swelling a bit, but a three-game set in Canada next week could deplete it quickly. Is there a genuine benefit to carrying Britton, who could potentially pitch two or three times a week and will hopefully look something like his old self?

If Britton returns, will Clarke Schmidt go down? What about Ron Marinaccio? Demoting Schmidt with Germán’s first start after a long layoff set for the weekend seems unwise; no matter how well it goes, some innings will need soaking. Sending Marinaccio to purgatory as his recent struggles pile up (8 hits in his last 6.1 innings, 4.26 ERA on a shorter leash than ever) is possible, but will a still-ramping-up Britton be any better?

That’s why he’s currently just hangin’ around this town on the corner of 161st and River Ave, waiting for his team to tell him he’s ready.