Yankees reliever Zack Britton underwent a reconstructive procedure to repair the UCL in his throwing elbow, manager Aaron Boone told reporters (including Erik Boland of Newsday). The surgery will sideline him for at least a significant chunk of the 2022 season, although Boone wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Britton making it back at some point next year.
It’s disappointing and somewhat surprising news. Britton was known to be undergoing elbow surgery, but the southpaw downplayed the possibility of there being significant structural damage at the time of that announcement. Instead, the belief had been that doctors only needed to remove bone chips from the joint. Evidently, there was a more significant issue involved than originally expected.
Britton wasn’t going to return this season in either event, but the presence of ligament damage requires a lengthier recovery timeline than loose bone chips alone would have. While the Yankees hadn’t provided a specific timetable on Britton’s return from the bone chip procedure, it seemed from the outside that he stood some chance of being ready for Opening Day next season. That’s obviously no longer the case, and it’s now in question when he’ll make it onto the mound in 2022.
New York hasn’t yet announced a target date in Britton’s recovery, although the procedure he underwent is similar to a full Tommy John surgery. Those typically require twelve to fourteen month rehab periods, which would seemingly threaten his entire 2022 season. At the very least, he’s not expected back until well after next year’s All-Star Break.
The Yankees had been counting on Britton to be a high-leverage relief option. The longtime Orioles closer adapted extremely well to the Bronx after heading over in a 2018 trade, posting a 2.14 ERA over 105 1/3 innings through the end of 2020. That continued elite performance inspired the Yankees to exercise Britton’s $14MM club option covering the 2022 season last winter. (Had they declined the option, Britton would have had the right to elect free agency last offseason).
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem they’ll get much return on that investment because of Britton’s elbow issues. He missed the first couple months of this season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to correct bone chips. He returned to the diamond in mid-June but was up-and-down over 22 appearances before landing back on the IL with his current injury. He’s now in line to miss at least the majority of next season before reaching free agency at the end of that year.