Zach Britton has emerged as one of the best relief pitchers in baseball since converting to the bullpen full-time in 2014, registering a 1.82 ERA with a 1.04 WHIP, an 8.7 K/9 mark and 142 saves in that span, all of which makes him an enticing late-inning arm in free agency this offseason.
Below you will find a list of the latest news and rumors surrounding the southpaw.
Yankees reportedly in agreement with Britton, Ottavino still an option
Jan. 5: The Yankees lost one potential bullpen target when David Robertson signed with the Phillies this week, but a source has told MLB.com's Mark Feinsand that they have agreed to a deal that will reunite them with left-hander Zach Britton.
Feinsand reports that it is for three guaranteed years at $13 million per year, with a club option to trigger a fourth year after the second season. If New York does not extend the deal to four years, Britton can opt-out and become a free agent. MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal was first to report that a deal was progressing.
Feinsand adds that the Yankees have also been engaged with right-hander Adam Ottavino, and could still sign him as well.
The Yanks' vaunted bullpen had two spots open up when Robertson and Britton hit the open market in November, and could potentially lose another big name a year from now, with Dellin Betances set to become a free agent.
Britton, 31, has been one of the game's premier relievers over the past several seasons. His best campaign came in 2016 for the Orioles, when he posted a microscopic 0.54 ERA with 47 saves. He suffered an Achilles injury that required surgery during the offseason in December 2017, and struggled a bit for the O's last year, though he finished the '18 season with a 1.02 ERA over his final 17 outings for the Yankees.
In an article for The Athletic, Rosenthal suggests the Yankees may be "playing the long game" as their overall strategy this offseason, intending to outpace the rival Red Sox within the next few years, when several of Boston's stars are due to hit the free-agent market.
"Perhaps [Hal] Steinbrenner and [general manager Brian] Cashman are taking a longer view, believing that if they remain disciplined, they will be in even better position to outlast the Red Sox, whose seeming reluctance to push on [Craig] Kimbrel is an example of the increasingly difficult decisions they will face over the next two years," writes Rosenthal.
"Left-hander Chris Sale, righty Rick Porcello, shortstop Xander Bogaerts and designated hitter J.D. Martinez are eligible for free agency after the 2019 season (Martinez if he opts out). Outfielders Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley are scheduled to hit the open market after 2020."
New York is hardly the only team in the mix for Ottavino; the club could have competition from an unexpected source. MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reports that the Rangers are a "semi-surprise entry at the top of the bullpen market" and are considering Ottavino.
Could White Sox sign Britton to close?
Jan. 4: With David Robertson joining the Phillies, the free-agent reliever ranks are thinning, and Zach Britton could be the next domino to fall.
Britton has been in discussions with the Yankees, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan, and New York seems to be the frontrunner at this point.
But other teams can offer Britton something the Yanks cannot: the closer's role. That could be enough to sway the left-hander if he has similar offers from the Yankees and other clubs.
MLB.com's Richard Justice broke down the best remaining options on the reliever market Thursday and listed the White Sox as the likeliest landing spot for Britton because of the closing factor.
Chicago is in the running for Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, but given the report from Bruce Levine of 670 The Score that the club is unwilling to go beyond seven years for either player, it seems likely that both will have better offers elsewhere. If they come up empty in those pursuits, the White Sox could turn their focus toward improving the bullpen and the rotation.
Could Britton be next FA reliever to sign?
Jan. 3: David Robertson's two-year deal with the Phillies means another marquee free-agent reliever is off the board, and that could clear the way for Zach Britton to be the next such late-inning arm to ink a deal, per ESPN's Jeff Passan.
Both Robertson and Britton were in the Yankees' souped-up bullpen down the stretch run of 2018, with Britton showing improved velocity while compiling a 2.88 ERA over 25 appearances after coming over to the Bronx a week before the non-waiver Trade Deadline. The Athletic's Jayson Stark reported Thursday that the Yankees and Phillies -- the two biggest perceived players for Manny Machado -- are "focused heavily" on free-agent relievers this week.
While the Yankees have been linked to New York native Adam Ottavino as well, MLB Network insider Jon Heyman notes that the club seems to be focused on Britton at the moment.
The Yankees' biggest rival, the Red Sox, appear to be waiting out closer Craig Kimbrel as he seeks what could potentially be a record deal for a free-agent reliever, giving the Bronx Bombers ample time to sign one or perhaps two of the other top relievers still on the market.
Entering New Year, Britton ranks 14th among top available FAs remaining
Jan. 1: Among the top relievers left on the free-agent market, Britton ranks right near the top. His sinker makes him one of the toughest left-handers out of the bullpen, and he's projected for yet another strong season.
In a recent article for MLB.com, Matt Kelly examined the market's top remaining players by looking at Steamer projections available through FanGraphs, which forecasted that Britton will be worth 0.5 Wins Above Replacement in 2019. That would be good for the 14th-best mark among all players that remain available entering the new calendar year.
Kelly points out that Britton regained velocity after returning from right Achilles surgery before he was traded to the Yankees ahead of the non-waiver Trade Deadline, which perhaps coincided with his increased ground-ball rate. In his first nine outings in June, Britton averaged 93.8 mph on his sinker and elicited a 54.2 percent ground-ball rate overall. But from July on, he averaged 95.1 mph and 78.2 percent, respectively. Those improvements are encouraging.
Steamer projections also predict that Britton will post a 3.01 ERA and 1.32 WHIP.
Britton still 'in play' for Yankees
Dec. 28: The Yankees' primary focus at the moment is the Manny Machado sweepstakes, but with the 26-year-old not expected to make his decision until after the calendar flips to 2019, New York is keeping tabs on the bullpen market.
According to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, Zach Britton, David Robertson and Adam Ottavino are all still "in play" for the Yanks, and the club may sign more than one of them if the price is right.
The rival Red Sox have also been linked to all three pitchers, but the Yankees may be able to take advantage of Boston's willingness to wait for the Craig Kimbrel situation to play out.
Robertson and Britton both pitched for the Yankees in 2018, with the latter joining the club from the Orioles in a trade last July. The left-hander went on to record a 2.88 ERA with a 1.16 WHIP in 25 innings for New York.
Britton has a unique quality among free-agent relievers
Dec. 26: In an era where more and more pitchers are abandoning or cutting back on the two-seam fastball, MLB.com's David Adler notes that free-agent left-hander Zach Britton has actually increased his sinker usage. A career-high 92.1 percent of his pitches in 2018 were sinkers, the highest rate in MLB. Britton also got great results from the pitch: only 20.7 percent of the hard-hit balls he yielded from July onward were hit in the air.
Adler writes that Britton's penchant for ground balls makes him an ideal candidate for several teams that play in hitter-friendly parks, including the Astros, Red Sox and Yankees, three American League powerhouses that will again jockey for supremancy in '19. Not only is Britton's sinker effective at limiting contact to the ground, but it's hard to hit in the first place. Adler writes that the left-hander's whiff rate with the pitch from the start of July through the end of the regular season was an MLB-high 32.1 percent.
It remains to be seen which club plucks Britton off the free-agent market, but one thing is for certain: his track record would play well in ballparks that yield the most home runs. More >
Could Red Sox sign Britton to replace Kimbrel?
Dec. 22: The Red Sox are in the market for at least one high-leverage reliever, potentially two, and with Craig Kimbrel's asking price so high that he's since reportedly dropped it, Boston could pursue another avenue for the ninth inning.
In a Sunday piece for the Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo outlines why Zach Britton could be a possible option. Boston, after all, was pursuing Britton ahead of the non-waiver Trade Deadline in July before he was eventually dealt to the Yankees.
Britton knows the American League East, is comfortable pitching on a high-stakes stage and would likely be a more affordable than Kimbrel, who is supposedly seeking a five- to six-year deal in the $17 million to $19 million range. With Andrew Miller having signed with the Cardinals, Britton is the top left-handed reliever left on the free-agent market. As it stands, Brian Johnson is the only lefty in Boston's bullpen.
The Red Sox were one of just two clubs to exceed the Competitive Balance Tax threshold in 2018, and though they are in line to pass the $206 million CBT mark for '19, that won't necessarily stop ownership from spending this offseason, per Cafardo. Britton has expressed that he's open to a versatile role in which he pitches innings other than the ninth, though he's made it clear that he'd like to be paid like a closer. In Boston -- unless the Red Sox sign someone else soon, such as Adam Ottavino or David Robertson, who Cafardo speculates as other targets -- Britton would be.