News broke on Monday morning that the Boston Red Sox are heavily interested in free agent relievers David Robertson and Zach Britton. While it’s always alarming when the Red Sox have interest in ex-Yankees, it’s especially concerning that they want these two Yankees. The Bombers currently enjoy a position of strength over the Red Sox in terms of their bullpen; Boston swiping Robertson or Britton would cut into that strength.
That said, Robertson and Britton do come with some risks. They are both on the wrong side of 30, with Robertson in particular entering his age-34 season after ten relatively high-stress seasons of wear and tear on his pitching arm. Meanwhile, Britton has had forearm and achilles injuries before age 31. There is risk in giving these pitchers a regrettable contract out of desperation.
However, the Yankees’ bullpen would be completely decimated if they were to lose Robertson and Britton. Aroldis Chapman is the team’s best reliever, but he has been an injury concern recently and has an opt-out after this coming season. Dellin Betances is solid, but is a free agent in one year. Chad Green is a nice fireman and Jonathan Holder is a good middle reliever, but they aren’t true eighth or ninth-inning material should injuries pile up. The back end of the bullpen is a mess of out-of-options veterans (Tommy Kahnle, A.J. Cole, Luis Cessa) and unproven minor leaguers (Stephen Tarpley, Jonathan Loaisiga, Domingo German). No matter what, the Yankees will have to add something to the bullpen this offseason.
Relievers are notably volatile, so why not go with the devil you know? It’s not like Robertson and Britton were bad last year – Robertson made the most appearances of any Yankee pitcher and had decent numbers, and Britton became a reliable option for Aaron Boone down the stretch. In fact, Robertson is tied with Craig Kimbrel for fourth among free agent relievers in 2018 WAR. These guys can be thrown out in the final three innings as legitimate shutdown options, while also allowing Green and Holder to be above-average in middle relief.
There is always the question of money though, which is why it is admittedly unlikely that the Yankees re-sign both of these guys. The Yankees are interested in big fish free agents like Manny Machado and even J.A. Happ. These guys will earn expensive multi-year deals, and will eat up anywhere from $150-$300 million of the Yankees’ money, depending on who they get. This doesn’t leave a ton of room left to add bullpen help.
Luckily, Robertson and Britton have two different free agency approaches. Robertson is self-representing and wants to stay local, while Britton is going all-in for a big payday. The Yankees may have to wait and see on where the other free agents decide to go before they seriously commit to Britton or Robertson, but they should at least be showing interest in retaining these key bullpen arms.
The Yankees are rumored to have interest in Adam Ottavino and Andrew Miller as failsafes in case Robertson and Britton slip through their fingers, but I still prefer Robertson and Britton. Ottavino is a New York native, but I’m worried about his fit in New York after a lengthy run in small-market Colorado. He also only has three games of playoff experience, which all came this year and didn’t go well. As for Miller, he’s starting to break down physically and will probably come more expensive than Robertson, anyway. While I could see Britton costing four years and $55-$65 million, Robertson probably won’t cost much more than one or two years at $10 million each. As long as the Yankees don’t overpay, they need to snag one of these two guys for sure.
Much like the Yankees’ infield, there’s a startling lack of depth in the Yankees’ bullpen. There’s no way that they open the season without adding to the relief corps, but the Yankees really can’t afford to lose out on Robertson and Britton. Given the uncertain futures of Chapman and Betances, the Yankees would fetch some good insurance by retaining two key cogs of their bullpen last year. Aside from hitting dingers, having a dominant bullpen is what the Yankees do best. Relying on the current group of relievers would not continue that trend. The Yankees need a reliever, and who better to call on than two big members of last year’s team in David Robertson and Zach Britton.