Sox pry Ottavino from Yanks in rare trade

January 26th, 2021

BOSTON -- Looking to upgrade their bullpen, the Red Sox went to their chief rivals for help. And somewhat surprisingly, their wish was granted.

On Monday, the Sox acquired right-hander from the Yankees. Boston also received righty Frank German -- who was the Yankees’ No. 24 prospect per MLB Pipeline -- in the deal. The Red Sox will send a player to be named or cash considerations to the Yankees for the two pitchers.

It was the first Red Sox-Yankees trade since 2014, when Stephen Drew went to New York in exchange for Kelly Johnson.

“I think that's what surprised me the most today, just that it was this type of trade,” said Ottavino. “I feel like I'm going to end up a trivia question one day. When [Yankees general manager Brian] Cashman told me Red Sox, that was not the name I expected. I knew I could be traded, but I definitely didn't expect that. It's kind of fun to be a part of something a little out of the ordinary.”

Ottavino will be one of the most important members of a bullpen that the Red Sox expect to be much improved from last season.

“This was a move where we felt we were able to address a number of different objectives," Boston chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said. "We acquired Adam Ottavino, who is a veteran reliever who has had a lot of success, success in our division, has swing-and-miss stuff that plays against everyone, and especially right-handed hitters. There’s a lot of right-handed hitters in our division and more that seem to keep joining it."

The Yankees, with DJ LeMahieu, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres, Gary Sanchez, Luke Voit and Gio Urshela, are as righty dominant as any team in the league. The Red Sox will count on Ottavino to help neutralize that potent lineup in the late innings.

Ottavino is owed $8 million in 2021. The Yankees will send $850,000 to the Red Sox in the trade, a source told MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand. So, Boston will be on the hook for $7.15 million of Ottavino’s salary. Ottavino signed a three-year, $27 million contract on Jan. 24, 2019, which means he counts $9 million toward the luxury tax in '21. Subtracting the $850,000 the Yankees sent over in the deal, the hit to the Red Sox for this year is $8,150,000.

Why would the Yankees hand Ottavino to the Red Sox as a salary dump? Not only does New York have a current roster crunch to fit in recent agreements with LeMahieu and Corey Kluber, but it can also use some of the savings of trading Ottavino to fill other needs on the club.

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“We were really just looking at how it fit our objectives,” Bloom said. “I think that’s important, even if it is the Yankees. It’s very hard to be great if you’re too busy worrying about everybody else. We have to worry about ourselves.”

The addition of Ottavino caps a busy few days for Bloom, who, according to sources, reached an agreement with super-utility man Enrique Hernández on a two-year, $14 million deal on Friday and then agreed to terms Saturday with righty starter Garrett Richards on a one-year, $10 million contract that includes a 2022 club option.

Though Red Sox president/CEO Sam Kennedy was candid in telling The Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy last week, “I think it would be inaccurate to say we are going for it with an all-in approach that perhaps we did prior to the 2018 title,” the recent flurry of moves shows that Bloom is motivated to put a contending team on the field in '21.

“Well, we definitely feel like we are poised to be in a good place soon, relative to where we started the offseason,” Bloom said. “It’s interesting in that the pace of this offseason has been so different that it feels like there are a lot of dominoes yet to fall around the industry, so if that’s the case, that means there may be opportunities to do more that accomplishes goals for us. But we hope to be in a position soon here where we can look around and say that we have accomplished a lot of the things we set out to early on, and we can take that and go from there.”

In addition to their recent moves, the Sox would still like to add to their outfield, and the club is keeping tabs on free-agent center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., who has spent his entire career in Boston.

After a brilliant season for the Yankees in 2019 (1.90 ERA in 73 games), Ottavino wasn’t as strong in the pandemic-shortened ’20 season, recording a 5.89 ERA in 24 appearances. However, his ERA was skewed by one tough outing against the Blue Jays on Sept. 7, when he gave up six runs without recording an out. If you subtract that performance, Ottavino would have had a 2.95 ERA.

Though the Yankees are projected to fare better than the retooling Red Sox in 2021, Ottavino is looking forward to seeing what it is like to pitch for the other side of the rivalry. He pitched in college for Northeastern University, which is less than a mile from Fenway Park.

“I'm very excited,” Ottavino said. “I was a little surprised today when I got the news, but all things considered, Boston is always a place I wanted to play. I went to school there, feel really comfortable in Fenway and all that good stuff. I'm really excited to bring what I bring. Hopefully I can do my thing out of the bullpen and help us win some ballgames.”

The side-winding Ottavino has mainly been a setup man in his career, though he has 19 career saves. It remains to be seen if the Red Sox would give him the chance to close.

Matt Barnes took over Boston's closing role last August when Brandon Workman was dealt to the Phillies. The hard-throwing Barnes has also mainly been used in a setup capacity in his career.

“[Manager] Alex [Cora] and I were talking about that as this was coming together. Bottom line, we think we just acquired someone who's really capable of pitching in any late-inning situation,” Bloom said. “How that shakes out as far as who closes, that's something we're still going to discuss, but it's just nice to have somebody with experience doing it and experience pitching in those situations to add to our mix, and then just figure it out from there.”

“We dug into that a good bit,” Bloom said. “Especially when guys start getting up into their 30s, obviously it’s something you want to pay attention to. Really, under the hood, everything looked very similar to 2019. I think you could see that in a lot of his peripheral numbers. The stuff was still in place. A lot of things in terms of stuff, in terms of execution, in terms of a lot of the outcomes you would predict, those were all still in place. That’s all very encouraging as we look ahead to 2021.”

Like many people around the world, Ottavino is pleased that 2020 is in the rearview mirror.

“[It] was a tough year for me personally on the ballfield. Just didn't throw the way I wanted to overall and then had probably the worst game of my career right here in the middle that made it that much harder to deal with, and then didn't really give me much of chance in the playoffs, so it was tough,” Ottavino said. “I do think it wasn't all terrible. There were some things about it that were good. I learned some things going through it and I'm really excited for this next season coming up, but I'll try to put that last year behind me, for sure.”

A first-round selection of the Cardinals in the 2006 MLB Draft, Ottavino stayed in St. Louis' system for six years, pitching in only five big league games. He was claimed off waivers by the Rockies in 2012.

Ottavino had a strong seven-year run in Colorado’s bullpen, posting a 3.41 ERA. He became a free agent after the 2018 season, and the Red Sox were one of the teams interested in his services before he signed a three-year, $27 million deal with the Yankees.

Throughout his career, Ottavino has mastered righties, holding them to a slash line of .212/.291/.324. He had a bit of a slippage in his down 2020 season, as righties slashed .263/.311/.439 against him.

Red Sox-Yankees trades happen less often than presidential elections. Before the Drew-Johnson exchange in ’14, the sides hadn’t matched up since 1997, when Mike Stanley went from the Sox to the Yankees for Tony Armas Jr. A few months later, the Red Sox packaged Armas as part of their trade with the Expos to land future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez.

Just prior to the 1986 season, the rivals swapped designated hitters, as Don Baylor came to Boston in exchange for Mike Easler.

Of course, no Red Sox fan wants to hear about the most famous exchange between the rivals -- the one that involved Babe Ruth.

“I know it’s the Yankees, and I understand what that means. It’s the most storied rivalry in sports,” Bloom said. “It’s part of what makes the history of this organization so great, is getting to lock horns with those guys on a regular basis. But if we’re not willing to do something that helps us because it helps them … or worse, if we’re worried it might not go as we expect and it blows up in our face and we look bad, then we’re just playing scared, and we’re not going to play scared.”

Ottavino joins a Red Sox bullpen that includes Barnes, Darwinzon Hernandez, Josh Taylor, Ryan Brasier and possibly Matt Andriese, depending on what role he settles into.

The 23-year-old German, a Queens, N.Y., native, is 5-8 with a 3.56 ERA in 30 games (23 starts) in the Minor Leagues. The Yankees selected him in the fourth round of the 2018 MLB Draft.

“He’s an interesting prospect,” Bloom said. “I know this organization has had an eye on him since he was in the Draft, I remember talking about him in our Draft room when I was with the Rays and he was at North Florida as kind of a pop-up guy that spring. He’s a power arm with a really good fastball that has good velo, good life. The secondaries are coming. The fastball is certainly the foundation right now, but that’s a good place to start.”