Zack Britton came to a free-agent intersection in the offseason: Return as a setup man for a Yankees team that could be an annual championship contender or close for another team.
This was one of the game’s great closers. He went 47-for-47 in save attempts with a 0.54 ERA for Baltimore in 2016 and extended that to 60-for-60 in 2017, the second-longest streak in major-league history. But the Yankees acquired him last July to help set up, and Britton helped set up a trip to the postseason despite not quite being himself after rupturing his right Achilles the previous offseason.
“Would I be happy racking up saves somewhere else or winning a championship?” Britton said in the Yankees’ clubhouse before Sunday night’s 8-5 loss to Boston at the Stadium. “Obviously, I think the championship, for me, is more important than racking up saves, not necessarily with a losing team, but maybe not a team I felt like was going to contend for multiple years.”
The 31-year-old lefty took a three-year, $39 million deal with a 2022 team option. He may be happy with his choice, but the lure of closing didn’t leave when he decided to stay.
Said Britton, “I’d be lying to say that’s still not like what I’m drawn to doing.”
He will have another chance to be a free agent and chase a closer job after next season if the Yankees don’t exercise his option at that time. “It’s not like I don’t want to do it again,” Britton said. “So after next year when I have that opt-out, it’ll be something that I definitely think long and hard about.
“Hopefully we get a championship so it makes it a little easier. But we’ll just see how it is. I’m enjoying doing something a little different. It’s always nice to kind of rechallenge yourself, to do something you’ve never done before and be successful at it.”
Britton has been an integral part of the first-place Yankees’ exceptional bullpen. He has 13 straight scoreless appearances, covering 13 1⁄3 innings. In 27 games, he is 2-0 with 13 holds and a 2.05 ERA. He even pitched in for Aroldis Chapman and posted two saves.
“Look, he’s throwing the ball great,” Aaron Boone said. “I think he’s in a really good place. The stuff’s been excellent . . . I definitely think he’s that much further away from the injury.”
That occurred when he was running sprints in December 2017. His 2018 season didn’t start with Baltimore until last June. He finished with a combined 3.10 ERA in 41 games.
“I didn’t have the [lower-body] strength I was used to having, so it was hard for me to repeat my delivery,” Britton said. “All that stuff adds up to not having very good command. So now I feel a lot stronger. [I’m] able to repeat my delivery and command the ball, which has been the biggest thing that I’ve had success, because I’ve been able to command my sinker.”