The Yankees need starting pitching, but Zach Britton could be the next best option

·MLB columnist

What the New York Yankees probably need, of course, is a starting pitcher. Perhaps two.

Because while they seem destined for 100 or more wins, which is fine in itself, they also are a half-dozen games behind the Boston Red Sox, which is the current issue and not insignificant. And if you had to narrow the reasons for that, the gap in starting pitching is as good as any. Specifically, what generally happens after Luis Severino and CC Sabathia, and how that impacts which of the Red Sox or Yankees is assigned a play-in game and which awaits the outcome of that. The latter is preferable.

With a week to go before the trading deadline, the Yankees agreed to acquire Baltimore Orioles left-hander Zach Britton, which covered themselves if available starting pitching proves too elusive or too mediocre. With Britton, assuming health and continued progress as he returns from Achilles’ surgery, the Yankees have, if nothing else, reduced the number of outs required from their rotation. That’s especially important in October. Or, when considering a six-game hole in late July. The trade agreement was pending physicals Tuesday evening.

In their best scenario, they add a starter – perhaps J.A. Happ, Nathan Eovaldi, Chris Archer, someone along those lines, as well. Behind an improved rotation, then, they’d slot Britton alongside Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, David Robertson, Chad Green, Jonathan Holder, for what already was one of the better bullpens in the game.

Relief pitcher Zach Britton appears to be headed to the New York Yankees. (Getty Images)
Relief pitcher Zach Britton appears to be headed to the New York Yankees. (Getty Images)

The season is not yet a sprint. The Yankees and Red Sox are scheduled to play 10 more times, six in the season’s final two weeks. The Yankees start in a deficit. So, from a deep farm system they dealt Dillon Tate, a right-hander who was among their top prospects, triple-A left-hander Josh Rogers and triple-A right-hander Cody Carroll for two and a half months, maybe three and a half months, of Britton, who, at 30, can be a free agent this winter.

The early action leading to the trading deadline has been on back-end relievers. Prior to Britton going to the Yankees, the New York Mets traded Jeurys Familia to the Oakland A’s, the San Diego Padres traded Brad Hand and Adam Cimber to the Cleveland Indians and the Tampa Bay Rays traded Alex Colome to the Seattle Mariners.

Britton, though limited to 16 appearances because of the offseason surgery, was the best of the remaining closer types. He will not close for the Yankees. Across those 16 games, all since June 12, Britton has a 3.45 ERA. Since his best seasons, when he saved 37, 36 and a league-high 47 games from 2014-16, Britton has suffered through a left forearm ailment and then the heel injury, and thus far has pitched with diminished velocity on his signature sinker, his best pitch.

The Red Sox also were believed to have discussed Britton with the moribund Orioles, as had the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros, among others. With Manny Machado and Britton moved for a total of eight prospects, the Orioles are likely to shop several other players, including outfielder Adam Jones, second baseman Jonathan Schoop, and relievers Brad Brach and Michael Givens.

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