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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Zack Britton

After he missed most of the past two seasons with injuries, should the Yankees take a flier on Britton in 2023?

Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

From his acquisition through 2020, Zack Britton was a very good reliever for the Yankees. After a trade deadline deal in 2018, Britton put up a 2.14 ERA in 105.1 innings over his first three seasons in the Bronx, helping form a strong Yankee bullpen over those years. He also got to appear in 15 playoff games, after very infamously not getting used by Buck Showalter and the Orioles in the 2016 AL Wild Card Game.

In spring training 2021, he was preparing to continue that run when he suffered an elbow injury that required surgery. That kept Britton out until June, but when he returned he still didn’t seem quite right. He put up a 5.89 ERA and 5.46 FIP in 18.1 innings in 2021, including allowing a walk-off home run against the White Sox in the Field of Dreams Game.

Eventually, that September, Britton would undergo Tommy John surgery, which knocked him out of the stretch run and playoffs for 2021. He actually made a pretty remarkable recovery from TJ, returning to the bigs in late September this past season. However, he walked three in just 0.1 innings in his first game back, and never looked comfortable in any of the three games he played in 2022. Shortly after his third appearance, the Yankees put him back on the 60-day injured list, citing arm fatigue.

That effectively ended Britton’s season, and with his contract up after 2022, possibly his Yankee career. As we head towards the new year, he is still out there on the free agent market. Should the Yankees take another flyer on him?

As Britton’s stats have trended down over the past two seasons, so have his stuff and peripherals.

Baseball Savant

For someone whose dominance came from an impressive ability to generate groundballs, those percentages have gone the wrong way in recent seasons.

Then again, of course all of those stats and data have gone the wrong way; Britton’s been injured for much of the last two seasons. He didn’t seem fully back at 100 percent after coming back in 2021, and it very much seems like he came back too early in 2022. Doing that is going to have an effect not only on your basic stats, but also on peripherals and underlying data. There’s a chance he can get back to being a good pitcher in 2023, but it’s not going to show up in the small sample sizes from the last two seasons.

The flip side of that is: should the Yankees be willing to take the chance that he could find himself? Not that he’s going to get a long-term deal from anyone, but Britton will be 35 when next season starts. Injuries have wrecked his last two seasons, and while he could recover physically from there, there’s also a chance he’s also declined from just getting into his mid-30s.

By all accounts, Britton is going to get — and is only asking for — a one-year deal. That’s obviously the minimum, and considering his injuries, Britton also won’t cost too much dollars wise either. Britton was also, by all accounts, a fairly respected member of the Yankees’ clubhouse, having served as the team’s MLBPA representative. The Yankees could very easily take a flier for 2023, and move on if he’s fully past his best.

Zack Britton has had a very good career in Major League Baseball. He’s been good enough that some team is going to see what he’s got in 2023. It would be understandable both if the Yankees want to be that team or if they just want to move on.