Another former Oriole has found a home in this winter’s free agent market. Former Orioles closer Zach Britton, who was traded to the Yankees in July, is headed back to the Bronx for another contract that could go for anywhere from two to four years. ESPN’s Jeff Passan was the first to report a completed deal - pending physical, of course.
The variable length of the contract is a result of both the player and team having options on the contract. After two years, the Yankees must decide whether or not they want to exercise a fourth year option on the contract. If they do not do so, then Britton will have the option to void the third year of the contract and become a free agent. Jon Heyman of Fancred reported on the unusual structure of the contract.
All of that adds up to a contract that will be said to have three years and $39 million guaranteed. That’s $13 million per season, with the fourth year option carrying a $14 million price tag if it is exercised.
With the Orioles being about as far away from success as you can get, they were never going to sign Britton again for the same reason they had to trade him in July. When you’re bad, your closer doesn’t really matter that much. So they cashed in on two-plus months of Britton to receive pitching prospects Dillon Tate, Josh Rogers, and Cody Carroll in the July 24 trade.
It’s always going to be a bitter thing to see a favorite Oriole donning pinstripes. We all have our own reason for this. Mine, of course, is Jeffrey Maier. But it’s easy to cheer for Britton managing to get his free agent payday even though he’s battled injuries over the last two seasons that seem to have taken him far away from the elite performance he had from 2014-16.
That 0.54 ERA in 2016 when he went 47-for-47 in save opportunities was something else. I’ve never seen anything like it before and don’t expect to see anything like it again. Hitters had a .430 OPS against him for the entire season. Him locking down games is a big reason why that team was able to overcome a horrible starting rotation to earn a wild card spot.
The 2018 season was much less of a success for Britton. That started with the Achilles injury that he suffered in December 2017, an injury that kept Britton out of games until June 12. From his first game back, when he walked three batters in a scoreless inning, the idea that this wasn’t going to be the 2016 Zach Britton seemed to be apparent. As Britton went on to post mediocre strikeout numbers with a disappointing walk rate and a ballooning home run rate, there wasn’t much to change that impression.
Now it’s the Yankees task to figure out whether they can get that amazing level of performance back from the 31-year-old lefty. They have the luxury of not even needing to throw Britton into the ninth inning, since they already have Aroldis Chapman lined up there, and probably strikeout machine Dellin Betances for the eighth inning as well. They might have just guaranteed $39 million to a seventh inning guy they’re not even all that sure will work out.
The Orioles will presumably take a lead into the seventh, eighth, or ninth innings at some point in 2019. Who pitches any of those innings and whether they can hold the lead, I guess we’ll find out. It won’t be Britton. It was never going to be Britton. May he be the most successful player on an inexplicably and hilariously horrible series of Yankees teams over the next four seasons.