The New York Yankees’ bullpen is having its Golden State Warriors moment.
Just as the rich got richer this NBA offseason when the defending champion Warriors signed four-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, the Yankees bolstered their already elite relief unit by trading for one of the best late-inning pitchers in the game, Baltimore Orioles closer Zach Britton.
Like Cousins, Britton also is coming off an Achilles injury which required surgery this offseason. At times, the rust has shown; he owns an uncharacteristically high 3.45 ERA through 16 appearances this season and has walked at least one batter in each of his last three outings.
But let’s be clear: When fully healthy, the 30-year-old left-hander is dominant. And if the real Britton shows up in the Bronx, New York’s bullpen will be downright silly.
Consider this for starters: Pairing Britton with current closer Aroldis Chapman means the Yankees now boast two of the top four relievers in all of baseball since 2014.
Oh, and they also employ right-hander David Robertson, who has 134 career saves to his name. That gives the Bombers three relievers with at least 130 career saves, an anomaly not seen in 14 years since the 2004 Philadelphia Phillies.
Did we mention New York has three other relievers with ERAs all under 3.00 in right-handers Chad Green (2.63), Dellin Betances (2.55) and Adam Warren (2.39)? And that Betances boasts the best strikeout-per-nine-innings ratio in the American League at 15.73 (74 strikeouts in 42 1/3 innings)?
Adding a fireballer like Britton, who has six Ks in his last six outings, should add even more punch-out potential to the Yankees’ back end, which is on pace to finish with the best K/9 ratio in major league history.
This would seem to be an embarrassment of riches for New York, which had to part with three prospects to land Britton and had other areas of need, namely starting pitching. But the importance of having a strong bullpen in the postseason has skyrocketed ever since Andrew Miller made history by winning MVP of the 2016 American League Championship Series. Having a glutton of effective relievers takes the pressure off the Yankees’ starters and can significantly shorten games when they matter most.
We’re guessing there was one more reason the Yanks went all-in on Britton, though.
The former Orioles closer has enjoyed great success against the Boston Red Sox since becoming a reliever. The AL East rivals will play each other 10 more times this season and very well could meet in the playoffs, so New York gets a pitcher with a proven track record against its nemesis while also preventing its nemesis from acquiring that player.
Again, there still are lingering injury concerns with Britton, so this is no slam-dunk. But it appears the Yankees just got a significant leg up in the AL arms race.