The Yankees might look to cut costs this offseason, but Zack Britton — perhaps their best arm in the bullpen — is coming back for two more years.
The Yankees had until three days following the World Series to pick up Britton’s $14 million option for 2022, and they did that Thursday, according to a source. If they hadn’t, Britton could have opted out of the $13 million he is due for 2021 and would have become a free agent.
The move was hardly a surprise, considering how well Britton pitched this season, but given the economic state of the game due to the impact of COVID-19, nothing can be taken for granted.
The Indians, for instance, placed their closer, Brad Hand, on outright waivers Thursday in an effort to save a $1 million buyout. Hand is due to make $10 million next year.
Britton will turn 33 in December, but the lefty was excellent both filling in for Aroldis Chapman at closer and throughout the regular season and playoffs.
Brett Gardner’s future in The Bronx is less clear, as the Yankees declined his $10 million team option for 2021, according to another source. Gardner is owed a $2.5 million buyout and the two sides could still reach an agreement to keep the 37-year-old with the Yankees at a lower price after he rebounded from a rough start at the plate and played well in the postseason.
The Yankees have other decisions to make in the near future. J.A. Happ’s $17 million option for next season didn’t vest during a contentious season, and the left-hander all but accused the Yankees of restricting his workload to prevent him from hitting his incentives.
The Yankees still hold a $17 million team option for Happ, which is why he’s not yet officially a free agent, but they are all but certain they will decline it after his rocky 2020 season.
Happ turned 38 this month and pitched poorly in his first two starts of the abbreviated regular season.
After he had a start skipped and another pushed back, Happ was displeased with not starting until the fourth game back following an unscheduled break in the schedule when the Yankees’ series against the Mets was postponed due to COVID-19 concerns.
“It doesn’t take too much to figure out, sort of, what could be going on,” Happ said of the possibility of the Yankees manipulating his workload to avoid having him hit his numbers.
The Yankees, at the time, countered with the fact they wanted to use their best pitchers as much as possible and Happ was not pitching well.
Happ had a 1.93 ERA over a six-start span toward the end of the regular season. But he publicly bristled at having to pitch in relief in a loss to the Rays in Game 2 of the ALDS, when he allowed four runs in two innings after coming in behind Deivi Garcia.
Happ or the players association could file a grievance, which would make a 2021 reunion especially awkward.
The Yankees have plenty of questions regarding their rotation. Gerrit Cole is signed, but Happ, James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka all can become free agents.
Jordan Montgomery will be back and Luis Severino likely will return from Tommy John surgery by the summer, but Domingo German still needs to convince the organization he’s turned his life around after serving a suspension for violating MLB’s domestic violence protocols.
Behind them, there are inexperienced arms such as Garcia, Clarke Schmidt and Mike King.