Over the weekend the Yankees bolstered their bullpen and agreed to a unique two-year contract with Zach Britton. It’s two years with a two-year club option or a one-year player option. Britton rejoins Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Chad Green, and Jonathan Holder in the bullpen. A pretty good relief core, that is. The other three bullpen spots are still undecided.
Even after re-signing Britton, the Yankees remain interested in free agent righty Adam Ottavino, report Jon Heyman and Mark Feinsand. The Yankees have been linked to Ottavino all winter and that has not changed. For all intents and purposes, the bullpen right now is the bullpen the Yankees had at the end of last year, minus David Robertson. Ottavino is best realistically available option to replace Robertson.
Ottavino turned 33 earlier this offseason — he is eight months younger than Robertson — and he’s a native New Yorker. Born in Manhattan, raised in Brooklyn, trains in vacant Harlem storefronts in the offseason. At this point he is no worse than the second best free agent reliever on the market behind Craig Kimbrel. To me, aggressively pursuing Ottavino is a no-brainer for the Yankees, for four reasons.
1. He makes them better. I can’t believe I have to point this out, but I have people in my Twitter mentions telling me the Yankees “don’t need” Manny Machado every single day, so I am compelled to spell this out. Ottavino is very good. He struck out 112 batters with a 2.43 ERA (2.74 FIP) in 77.2 innings last year and did it while calling Coors Field his home ballpark. Please enjoy these sliders:
3 Filthy Adam Ottavino Sliders. pic.twitter.com/Uzypj1jWNs
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) December 7, 2018
Ottavino is very good. He’s been up and down in his career to date but he has the tools to be very successful — I refer you to the aforeembedded slider GIF — and, as last year’s storefront work showed, the drive and the smarts to improve. Ottavino’s really good. He might be bad in the way every free agent signing might be bad, but he’s really good and he’d make the Yankees better. And when you have a win-now roster, getting better should be the top priority. I idea the Yankees “don’t need” any above-average player is silly y’all. More talent equals more wins.
2. He’d give the bullpen another high-strikeout arm. Chapman, even with his velocity dwindling, still misses a ton of bats. Betances misses a ton of bats. Britton hasn’t missed many bats the last two years though, and last season Green’s strikeout rate dropped nearly ten percentage points. That’s one fewer strikeout for every ten batters faced. Pretty significant! Holder’s strikeout rate was more or less league average last year too.
Point is, the Yankees could use one more bona fide bat-misser for the middle innings. Chapman is the closer and Betances is the eighth inning guy until his performance necessitates a demotion. Who’s getting that key strikeout with runners on second and third in the sixth or seventh inning? Green is the club’s best bet right now and, again, his strikeout rate dropped quite a bit last year. Ottavino is as good a bet to get those key strikeouts as any reliever in baseball, and we know the Yankees love strikeouts.
3. Next year’s free agent reliever class stinks. Here is the 2019-20 free agent class. Right now, looking at this in January 2019, the best free agent reliever will be Betances. Ryan Pressly, Steve Cishek, and Jeremy Jeffress stand out as the best of the rest. Ignoring the fact that none of those three can help the Yankees win in 2018, how many would you comfortably expect to outperform — or even match — Ottavino going forward? I think you could argue all of them. I also think you could argue none of them.
There’s also this: Future free agent classes only get worse as time passes. Far more players sign extensions or see their skills diminish than break out and become coveted free agents. Passing on Ottavino now to sign Pressly next year makes some sense. But what if Pressly has a Cody Allen season next year, or the Astros lock him up? I don’t agree with it, but you could argue the Yankees should pass on Machado now and instead sign Nolan Arenado next year. There’s a viable alternative. I can’t imagine making that claim with a relief pitcher though.
4. The 2020 bullpen is a tad unsettled. Betances will be a free agent next winter and Chapman could opt out of his contract after this coming season. I don’t think it’ll happen, but you never know. He’d be walking away from two years and $34.4M. Maybe Chapman and his agent will believe there are three years and $45M sitting out there waiting to be had next offseason? I dunno but I guess we’ll find out in ten months.
It’s easy to say the Yankees should re-sign Betances after the season — as far as I’m concerned, he should be a Forever Yankee — but gosh, who knows? Love the guy but he is quite volatile. You don’t have to try real hard to see a scenario in with Chapman opts out and the Yankees walk away from Betances. In that case, the Yankees would be better situated for 2020 because they’d have Ottavino and Britton, Green, and Holder, not just the latter three. There would be less desperation for bullpen help (in a crummy free agent market).
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Remember, Ottavino would not replace Betances or Britton or one of the other primary end-game relievers this coming season. He would replace Tommy Kahnle or Luis Cessa or whoever would get the final bullpen spot otherwise. Ottavino makes the Yankees much better and the goal should be getting better given the current state of the franchise. There’s a time for a patience and a time to go all-in, and, right now, the Yankees should go all-in.
The way the Yankees are constructed, with starters who don’t pitch deep into games (because the team doesn’t let them), acquiring as much high-end bullpen help as possible is a necessity more than a luxury. The Yankees are a David Robertson short of last year’s very good bullpen and Ottavino would fill that role perfectly, that middle innings bat-misser. He’s also better than almost every top reliever scheduled to hit the free agent market year, so consider signing Ottavino now part of next offseason’s shopping as well.