The Yankees announced Thursday that they’ve selected the contract of minor league outfielder Trey Amburgey to the Major League roster and reinstated lefty Zack Britton from the 10-day injured list. In a pair of corresponding roster moves, both Nestor Cortes Jr. and Wandy Peralta were placed on the Covid-19-related injured list. The team has not provided further updates on their status. Players on the Covid list do not count against a team’s 40-man roster, so no further corresponding move was necessary to place Amburgey on the 40-man.
Amburgey, 26, was the team’s 13th-round pick back in 2015. He’s never been considered one of the organization’s top prospects and posted mostly average results while rising through the minor league ranks. However, his 2019 campaign in Triple-A was a bit above the league average, and his second go-around at that level has been enormously productive.
Through 161 plate appearances so far in 2021, Amburgey has tattooed Triple-A pitching at a .312/.379/.582 clip. He’s connected on seven home runs, 15 doubles and a triple while walking at a healthy 9.9 percent clip and fanning in 24.2 percent his plate appearances.
Amburgey has played the outfield corners exclusively so far in 2021, but he does have 753 innings of center-field work under his belt — including 122 innings there back in Triple-A during the 2019 season. That makes him an option to work into the mix at multiple spots, as the Yankees have received generally poor collective output from both left field (.232/.297/.363, 83 wRC+) and center field (.182/.289/.312, 71 wRC+) so far in 2021. Right fielder Aaron Judge has been characteristically excellent, both with the glove and the bat, but the outfield group as a whole has been a key factor in the Yankees’ underwhelming 2021 campaign.
The 33-year-old Britton, meanwhile, will return from his second IL stint of the season — the second a much shorter one than the first. Britton was out from Opening Day through June 12 due to arthroscopic surgery that removed bone chips from his left elbow. He tossed just 4 1/3 innings upon his activation before going down with a hamstring strain that sidelined him another three weeks.
Britton’s return will come at a time when the Yankees’ other high-priced bullpen lefty, Aroldis Chapman, has been melting down at the most alarming rate of his career. Chapman carried a near-immaculate 0.39 ERA through early June before imploding in a four-run loss to the Twins at Target Field in which he failed to retire any batters. He’s now allowed runs in five of his past ten outings, including three of his past four, and pitched to a disastrous 18.90 ERA over those ten outings. Since that June 10 meltdown, Chapman has yielded 14 earned runs on 15 hits and 11 walks in just 6 2/3 frames. Four of those hits have left the yard, and he’s also hit a batter. He’s faced 46 batters and allowed 27 of them to reach.
Given those struggles, it wouldn’t at all be a surprise to see a returning Britton and the steadier Chad Green supplant Chapman in high-leverage and/or save situations. (Although Green himself just imploded for four runs in his final first-half outing.) Britton, of course, has more closing experience than just about any “setup” man around the game, having racked up 153 saves in his career — including an AL-best 47 back in 2016 with the Orioles.
The Yankees are turning to Amburgey and Britton at a pivotal time for the club. They’ll face the division-leading Red Sox in eight of their next ten games, with the only reprieve coming via a two-game set against the Phillies.
The Yankees’ season in many ways hangs in the balance; they’re already eight games behind Boston in the AL East and four and a half games back in the AL Wild Card chase. A strong showing in these eight games could rally the club and push the front office into buy mode with the July 30 trade deadline looming, but if the Sox are able to topple the Yankees in the majority of these eight games, it could serve as a proverbial nail in the coffin of the 2021 Yankees, who’d have some interesting veterans to peddle in advance of the deadline.