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Britton: Yanks 'could win year-in and year-out'

Reliever thrilled to be back in pinstripes; contract averages $13 million per season
MLB.com @BryanHoch

NEW YORK -- The Yankees and Zach Britton finalized a new contract on Friday that will keep the left-handed reliever in pinstripes for at least the next two seasons.

NEW YORK -- The Yankees and Zach Britton finalized a new contract on Friday that will keep the left-handed reliever in pinstripes for at least the next two seasons.

Tweet from @zbritton: Very excited to be back with the @Yankees ! Looking forward to big things from this team and organization in 2019 and beyond.

Britton's new pact with the Bombers is a three-year deal that will average $13 million each season, with an opt-out clause after 2020 if the team does not exercise its option for the '22 campaign.

The innovative structure is what agent Scott Boras has referred to as a "swell-opt," following similar agreements made with Jake Arrieta (Phillies) and Yusei Kikuchi (Mariners). Completing the full four years would net Britton $53 million.

To make room for Britton on the 40-man roster, the Yankees designated infielder Hanser Alberto for assignment.

Britton said the Yankees were near the top of his list as soon as he began holding discussions with prospective clubs.

"We kept in contact immediately once free agency started," Britton said on a conference call on Friday. "The fact that I had been a closer and knew that I could do at a high level, I felt I didn't need to prove myself. I had some opportunities to close with other teams, but I didn't feel like they were as close to winning as New York. I wanted to go back to a team that could win year-in and year-out.

"The deciding factor was the contract flexibility that [general manager Brian] Cashman and Boras worked out, and it was a spot where I could be comfortable."

Video: High Heat: Russo reviews Britton's deal with Yankees

By retaining Britton, the Yankees aim to maintain the strength of what was one of the better bullpens in the Majors last season, despite the loss of right-hander David Robertson to the Phillies. New York's 3.38 bullpen ERA ranked fourth behind the Astros (3.03), Cubs (3.35) and A's (3.37).

"They were one of the reasons I was trying to come back," said Britton of the Yankees' relief corps. "Being in that type of bullpen was going to make me better. When you're surrounded by so many good pitchers like that, it makes you pick your game up, and it helped me forget about the injury."

Though the Angels reportedly showed interest in Britton as a closer, the 31-year-old sinkerballer said after the season that working the ninth inning might not be as important to him as once thought. Britton projects to slide behind closer Aroldis Chapman, joining a stacked setup mix that also will feature Dellin Betances, Chad Green and Jonathan Holder.

While the Yankees wait on developments with superstar free agent Manny Machado, Cashman has turned his attention to the relief market. Right-hander Adam Ottavino has also generated interest, and it remains possible that the Yanks could add Ottavino even after re-signing Britton. In the meantime, MLB.com's Mark Feinsand confirmed multiple reports on Friday that New York is signing second baseman DJ LeMahieu to a two-year, $24 million deal.

Video: MLB Now on Britton's 3-year deal, other FA relievers

"I'm staying engaged with who the available players on the marketplace happen to be through trade or free agency, and some fit more than others," Cashman said last week on a conference call announcing the signing of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.

In 41 combined appearances for the Orioles and Yankees in 2018, Britton was 2-0 with a 3.10 ERA and seven saves in 10 chances, permitting 14 earned runs in 40 2/3 innings with 34 strikeouts. Opponents batted .201 (29-for-144) against the hurler, who did not pitch until June 12 while recovering from surgery on his right Achilles tendon.

Britton admitted Friday that his lower half felt "disattached" from his upper half as he transitioned back to the mound last summer, but he now feels the tendon is close to 100 percent as he prepares for his first Spring Training in pinstripes.

"It's a lot of trial and error, but you've got to learn how to walk again," said Britton. "It's a lot of building that calf and ankle strength back up, and this offseason, I've done a lot of agility work. There was a disconnect between my brain and that right Achilles for a while, but the more removed I've been from surgery, the more normal I've felt."

The Yanks acquired Britton from Baltimore on July 24, swapping out right-handers Dillon Tate and Cody Carroll and left-hander Josh Rogers. In 25 appearances for New York, Britton was 1-0 with a 2.88 ERA, permitting eight earned runs in 25 innings with 21 strikeouts.

Since the beginning of the 2014 season, Britton leads all Major League pitchers (minimum 200 innings pitched) with a 1.82 ERA. A two-time All-Star (2015-16), Britton was selected as the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year in '16 after converting all 47 of his save opportunities for the Orioles.

• The Yankees also announced the signings of right-hander Drew Hutchison and outfielder Matt Lipka to Minor League deals. 

Hutchison, 28, split the 2018 season between the Phillies and Rangers, going 2-2 with a 6.75 ERA in 16 games (five starts). 

The Lakeland, Fla., native has made 98 appearances (79 starts) across five Major League seasons with the Blue Jays, Pirates, Phillies and Rangers, posting a 32-23 career record with a 5.10 ERA. Hutchison became the youngest Opening Day starter (24 years, 227 days) in Blue Jays history on April 6, 2015, when he tossed six innings of one-run ball against the Yankees.

Hutchison was originally selected by the Blue Jays in the 15th round of the 2009 Draft.

Lipka, 26, played the 2018 season for San Francisco's Double-A Richmond affiliate, where he hit .240 with four homers and 30 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 123 games. Lipka made at least 10 starts at all three outfield spots, including 58 in center field, 25 in right field and 10 in left field.

Lipka was originally selected by the Braves in the first round (35th overall) of the 2010 Draft.

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.

Matt Kelly contributed to this report.

New York Yankees, Zach Britton