The New York Yankees struck out in the Manny Machado sweepstakes, but have scored a major run with the acquisition of Baltimore closer Zach Britton.
The news broke late Tuesday evening as the Orioles took on the Boston Red Sox in Baltimore while the Yankees simultaneously faced off with the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Rumors circulated when top-30 prospect Dillon Tate, who the Yankees acquired from Texas in the Carlos Beltran deal, was scratched from his scheduled start for non-injury reasons. It was already known the Yankees were major players in the Britton chase, but shortly after those rumors were confirmed as the Yankees were declared front-runners for the lefty elite closer via Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. Rosenthal later confirmed the deal when it became official
Britton doesn't solve the Yankees' lack of rotation depth but could provide an unconventional tactic in meaningful games down the stretch. Britton, who will join an already elite bullpen featuring the likes of Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, and Chad Green, provides a southpaw power sink effective against both lefty and righty hitters. An added arm of his caliber also shortens the game for their starters; five quality innings would be sufficient as the already aforementioned names, including David Robertson, are capable to bear the workload from the sixth inning on to the ninth.
The O's, who have sought young controllable arms to ignite their rebuild, have their man in Dillon Tate. A fourth overall pick by the Texas Rangers some years back, his transition from college star to grunt professional was beset by decreased fastball velocity and flattened breaking pitches. His trade to the Yankees was more as a thrown in pick for New York, a buy low but sell high kind of player if the Yankees could unlock his potential.
The result was increased fastball velocity and sharper secondary pitches as Tate has enjoyed a renaissance. At Double-A Trenton, a 3.38 ERA belies the .218 opponents batting average and a 1.11 WHIP. He tops out at 98 with his fastball and can throw consistent strikes with all of his pitches. At 6'2", 195lbs, with a delivery that's been retooled multiple times, it remains unclear if he'll stick in the rotation.
For Tate(#9), and included prospects Cody Carroll(#15) and Josh Rogers (unranked), you can find in-depth scouting reports over at MLB Pipeline.
Britton, 30, a failed starter, has become an elite reliever with a mid to high 90's heavy sinker. In 2017, Britton posted a 0.54 ERA in 69 appearances. That average "ballooned" to 2.89 in half as many games, with an increased walk rate (2.4 to 4.3) and hits per nine innings (5.1 to 9.4). His 2018 debut was delayed by a ruptured Achilles' tendon in December but has failed to give up an earned run since June 30th. Over those eight games, opponents have hit a meager .125 against him as velocity has returned to his sinker even if the command remains lacking.
The Yankees have operated out of a position of strength (controllable young arms), to solidify an undeniable strength of their roster (the bullpen) to relieve the burden from their weakest link (starting rotation).
By no means does this mean they're out of the market for another starting pitcher. After all, Britton remains only as a rental piece before his free agency at the end of the year, and facing a one-game elimination in the Wild Card means a sustainable playoff run isn't guaranteed. It's believed they'll still be in play for someone near the July 31st trade deadline. Who that arm will be remains to be seen, but the Yankees have strengthened an insurance policy if they find there's no one available worth the asking price.
Time will tell where the Yankees go from here, but they're a better team today than they were yesterday.