3:50 pm: Britton will undergo arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone chip in his left elbow in the next couple of days, per the team (via Twitter). Britton is expected to be shut down completely for six weeks, and he’s not likely to be back for another 3-4 months, per Andy Martino of the SNY Network (via Twitter). Justin Wilson’s presence in the bullpen will become all the more important for the Yankees in the first half.
8:38 am: The Yankees sent left-hander Zack Britton for an MRI yesterday after he experienced some discomfort in his left elbow following a bullpen session, manager Aaron Boone revealed to reporters this morning (Twitter link via ESPN’s Marly Rivera). Britton completed his throwing session as normal, but he began experiencing soreness in his elbow later in the day and was sent for imaging. Results are expected today.
Boone declined to speculate on a timeline, merely acknowledging that given the uncertainty, it’s of course possible that Britton won’t be ready for Opening Day. He did indicate that the issue is not believed to be related to Britton’s ulnar collateral ligament at this point (via James Wagner of the New York Times). Boone also noted that Britton was set back in his preparation for camp after contracting Covid-19 within the past couple of months. Britton himself recently told the New York Post’s Dan Martin about that matter, stating that the virus “hit me pretty good” in late January and caused him to lose a substantial amount of weight. The left-hander has not yet appeared in a Spring Training game.
Britton, 33, was outstanding for the Yankees in 2020, holding opponents to just four earned runs on a dozen hits and seven walks with 16 strikeouts through 19 innings of relief. His power sinker again resulted in an elite ground-ball rate (71.7 percent), as has become routine for the two-time All-Star. He went on to allow a pair of runs in 5 1/3 postseason frames.
That performance led the Yankees to exercise a $13MM club option over Britton for the 2022 season at the end of the 2020 campaign. Under the structure of his three-year deal, which covers the 2019-21 seasons, the Yankees had to either pick up that 2022 option a year early or risk Britton opting out of the contract’s third guaranteed year (2021). He’s now locked in as a Yankee through the end of his age-34 season.
Whether Britton is forced to miss time or not, the Yankees still project to have a strong bullpen in 2021. New York traded Adam Ottavino to the Red Sox a couple months back but reallocated much of the cost savings from that deal to low-cost signings of Darren O’Day and Justin Wilson. That pair of veterans will join Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green and ideally, Britton, in forming a strong veteran group to anchor the relief corps.
Luis Cessa, Jonathan Loaisiga, Brooks Kriske and Nick Nelson are among the other bullpen candidates on the 40-man roster, and the Yankees also brought in veterans Kyle Barraclough, Adam Warren, Tyler Lyons and Nick Goody on minor league pacts. Of course, selecting the contract of any of those non-roster veterans would come with some luxury-tax implications. The Yankees have ardently worked to remain south of the $210MM threshold and currently sit an estimated $3.5MM shy of that point, per Roster Resource’s Jason Martinez.