A bone-chilling winter has already begun to clench its icy grip on MLB. Owners, crying poor from the COIVD-19-induced loss of revenue, are starting to tighten their belts. And the uncertainty of in-person attendances for the coming season only serves to exacerbate what looks to be a depressed free agent market.
The New York front office has added its voice to this chorus of stinginess. Hal Steinbrenner claims the Yankees lost the most money of any MLB club in 2020. Various New York outlets have written ad nauseam on ownership’s intention to sneak below the $210 million luxury-tax threshold. All the the public signals suggest the Yankees will take a spendthrift approach to this offseason.
That is, until the Yankees picked up Zack Britton’s $14 million option for 2022.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but the Yankees’ announcement that they would exercise the fourth-year option on Britton’s contract initially came as quite the surprise. It arrived on the heels of two prominent relievers seeing the tenures on their respective teams draw to premature ends.
The Indians placed star closer Brad Hand on outright wavers while the Braves declined their 2021 club option on the reliable submariner Darren O’Day. Both relievers have been consistently effective, and their departures to free agency appeared to signal a particularly brutal offseason.
It seemed a given that the Yankees would follow suit when it came to Britton. He profiled similarly to the two aforementioned pitchers, while costing the same as their combined salaries. Of course, there was no guarantee Britton would opt out of the $13 million he is set to earn in 2021, and given the state of the market it’s fair to assume he would not have done so. Regardless, exercising his option at this price represented a departure of the front office’s stated agenda for the offseason.
After the initial surprise wore off, I found that I was thrilled by the Yankees’ decision. Britton has been one of the steadiest bullpen arms for the Yankees since donning the pinstripes. He showed he still has closer stuff, deputizing effectively for Aroldis Chapman while the Cuban Missile recovered from COVID-19 at the beginning of the season.
But that wasn’t what excited me the most about this development. Signing on for this extra year tells me that maybe, just maybe, the Yankees may not be dead set on austerity after all. Constantly repeating the desire to stay below the $210 million mark feels like a classic Cashman/Steinbrenner move. Make the league think the purse strings are drawn shut before ninja Cash swoops in and steals a bargain off the market.
But what about the Yankees declining Brett Gardner’s option or outrighting Tommy Kahnle you might ask? Don’t those moves speak to a more close-fisted approach? Not really. $10 million is an exorbitant price to pay a 37-year-old fourth outfielder, and there is still a chance the Yankees re-sign Gardner at a more reasonable rate. As for Kahnle, he will miss all of 2021 recovering from Tommy John surgery, so there is really no point in paying him around $3 million to rehab. Instead, that money can be reinvested into signing players who will make a difference **cough** DJ LeMahieu **cough**
When Hal Steinbrenner lamented the losses caused by COVID and confirmed the impact they would have on the team’s offseason spending, it felt like our worst fears were confirmed. Another year of worrying about the bottom line instead of making the move(s) that would finally push this talented core over the top. However in light of the the relievers being outrighted or having their options declined, the Yankees picking up Britton’s option gives hope that they might not be as stingy as we were being led to believe. We will know in the coming months.