ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Foremost in Brian Cashman’s focus much of this past year has been his desire to get one specific thing for his team: outside pitching help.
With Zach Britton now in the fold, it’s safe to say that the New York Yankees general manager’s mission is — in part, at least — accomplished. In the process, he made life a little more difficult for a pair of key American League foes.
That alone makes this a win-win. New York’s playoff push has officially begun.
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Tuesday’s Yankees-Orioles trade centered on adding Britton to the bullpen is a partial accomplishment for the Bronx Bombers because he’s just one piece of the overall puzzle that has the Yankees’ attention.
What Cashman and others around the organization have coveted most since last offseason, outside starting pitching help, has yet to materialize in the trade market. Although there is now less than a week until the non-waiver trade deadline, there still is time for such a move to happen.
But even if that move doesn’t come, Britton’s addition greatly bolsters an already strong bullpen that could be every bit as important to the Yankees this postseason as the arms in the starting rotation.
And there’s something else. The trade for Britton (in exchange for three Yankees prospects, pitchers Dillon Tate, Josh Rogers and Cody Carroll) helps the Yankees play a high-stakes game of keep-away with their fellow American League pennant contenders in Houston and Boston. Both teams reportedly were interested in Britton.
As the Astros and Red Sox show few signs of slowing their respective dashes to the playoffs, the Yankees will gladly take any opportunity to snatch a well-regarded player they also might have wanted.
“Those are teams that are top teams in the league,” Yankees reliever Dellin Betances said. “Adding a guy like Britton is powerful to any bullpen. So obviously getting him on our side — I don’t know if [the deal is] done, but if it’s done — it’s huge for us.”
Britton entered Tuesday night with 13 strikeouts in 15⅔ innings out of Baltimore’s bullpen this season. Despite battling injuries the past two years, he has been one of baseball’s best closers in recent seasons. Since becoming a full-time reliever in 2014, he has put up the lowest ERA (1.72) of any relief pitcher. Another Yankee, Aroldis Chapman, isn’t far behind, with a 2.04 ERA in that stretch.
Chapman, still deemed the closer of the Yankees’ vaunted bullpen that holds a league-best 2.45 ERA and 448 strikeouts, echoed his fellow flame-throwing teammates in welcoming Britton.
“When you bring somebody like him in, it gives you the opportunity to rotate and divide the workload,” Chapman said through an interpreter.
As the Yankees continue trying to add one more starter to provide much-needed depth behind ace Luis Severino and veterans CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and a seemingly improving Sonny Gray, the extra bullpen help could do wonders in the playoffs.
Now Yankees relievers who have been getting adequate time off between appearances can get even more.
“Adding a guy like that, it’s just pieces you can kind of play with, and you don’t have to go out there and pitch three days in a row, which, I haven’t done that all year. Most of us haven’t really done that,” Betances said. “So adding a guy like that even gives us more help. And we’ll keep feeding off that energy back down there in the bullpen.”
Britton, like Betances, Chapman and fellow Yankees reliever David Robertson, brings invaluable experience as a closer. His experience with pitching in high-leverage spots could be critical for the team in the postseason.
Despite the Yankees’ already being so strong in the bullpen, there is value in firming that foundation even more, manager Aaron Boone said.
“This time of year, anytime you can add to a strength and cover up a weakness or whatever, if you can add good players to your team, obviously that’s a good thing,” said Boone, who spoke in generalities after the Yankees’ 4-0 win over the Rays on Tuesday because the trade had not yet been made official.
Boone was so coy when speaking about Britton that he said only seven words when asked about his newest pitcher.
“I know he’s got a good sinker,” Boone said.
Britton’s sinker has been so good lately that this season he has posted the second-best whiff percentage he has ever had with the pitch, according to Statcast. Only the 2016 version of the eight-year veteran’s sinker had a higher percentage of swing-and-misses than this year’s 34.6 percent.
As good as all of that is and as good as it might be that the Yankees just snatched a prize away from fellow contenders, the most important part of Britton’s addition is that he’s expected to be a big help.
“It adds to a long list of guys in our bullpen that are nasty,” said catcher Austin Romine, who has taken no pleasure in facing Britton in the past. “It’s already lights-out. Now adding another back-end guy who can really throw the ball, it’s going to do nothing but help us.”