The New York Yankees didn’t pull off a blockbuster trade, but they did add two lefties who help their chances at catching the Boston Red Sox in the American League East standings — that being starter J.A. Happ and reliever Zach Britton.
The Yankees acquired Happ from the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday afternoon, and in exchange for the veteran left-hander, they sent infielder Brandon Drury and outfielder Billy McKinney north of the border. From the Yankees’ perspective, this deal makes a lot of sense. For starters, Drury was being sent up and down from Triple-A throughout the season, despite being one of the better third basemen in the game, and chances were he was never going to man an everyday role with them given the rise of Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar. Plus, the Yankees outfield depth within their organization is deep meaning McKinney may never have cracked their 25-man roster. In return, the Yankees are getting a pitcher in Happ who rounds out and makes manager Aaron Boone‘s rotation more reliable.
This season, Happ has not been stellar, currently owning a 4.05 ERA, but in years past, he’s been a reliable middle to top-0f-the-rotation arm. Recording ERAs of 3.18 and 3.53 in 2016 and 2017, he was able to keep the Blue Jays in games and be a viable lefty in the team’s rotation. However, the biggest factor working in the Yankees’ favor with Happ is his success versus the Red Sox.
This season, Happ owns an 0.84 ERA against the Red Sox, and from 2015-17, he recorded a 1.98 ERA while holding their lineup to a .199 batting average in eight outings. Versus the Yankees, Happ owns a lackluster 9.82 ERA in two starts in 2018. Now, he doesn’t have to face the firepower in the Yankees order, and they’ll hope he can continue to find success against the Sox. With a struggling Luis Severino, an inconsistent Masahiro Tanaka, a shaky C.C. Sabathia, an enigma in Sonny Gray, and an unproven Domingo German, adding a starter was a necessity for general manager Brian Cashman and the Yankees; Happ gives them a proven commodity to throw out on the hill every fifth day.Acquiring proven commodities will help the @Yankees achieve their current goal: making a run at the AL East crown.Click To Tweet
On the other hand, the Yankees are getting, when healthy, one of the best relievers in the game in Britton. He’s been one of the most productive left-handed relievers in the game in recent memory and is usually lights-out in the ninth inning. But with Aroldis Chapman in place, Britton will be manning a set-up or lefty specialist role. Just a year removed from not blowing a single save and recording an astonishing 0.54 ERA, the Yankees are getting a lefty who makes their already formidable bullpen flawless. He balances out their pen in terms of righties and lefties and helps forms one of the best backend duos in the game with Chapman.
Sure, Britton may not be the pitcher he was two years ago given injury and inconsistency, but the Yankees aren’t asking him to be their closer or pitch three innings a night. Barring injury, they likely won’t need to overuse him, and he makes their pen remarkably deep. Plus, based on their rotation’s inconsistency, having a reliable bullpen is enormous, and the Yankees own the best bullpen ERA in the game (2.86).
Happ and Britton are only under contract for the next two months which downplays their arrivals a bit. At the same time, the Yankees didn’t surrender any of their top-tier prospects such as Justus Sheffield, Clint Frazier, or Estevan Florial which makes going all-in on 2018 with Happ and Britton justifiable.
The Red Sox have the best record in Major League Baseball (73-33), and they will be difficult to surpass in the AL East. But they’re yet to endure a massive slump this season. In fact, the most consecutive games they’ve lost this season is two. At some point, a losing streak will present itself for the Red Sox whether it’s next week, August, or September. But with Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez on the disabled list, the Yankees won’t be at full force for the foreseeable future which is why the timing of these trades is so critical if they want to make a run at the division.
Last year, the Yankees were legitimately looking at their season ending in the American League Wild Game. Facing the Minnesota Twins at home, the Yankees sent Severino to the mound to punch their ticket to a first-round series matchup with the Cleveland Indians. But Severino gave up two home runs in the first inning and put runners on second and third base with one out, forcing then-manager Joe Girardi to take the ball from his ace and into the hands of Chad Green. Granted Green got out of the first inning jam and the Yankees won 8-4, the last thing they want to do is play in the one-game playoff for a second consecutive season.
Acquiring Giancarlo Stanton and letting Girardi walk to hire Boone were two moves made by Cashman and the Yankees to give themselves a better chance at winning the division and reaching the World Series. But currently 5.5 games back of their archrival with less than 60 games to play, the odds are not in their favor, and they may end up right back where they were last season hosting the AL Wild Card game. If they want to avoid playing in the one-game playoff, their best chance is beating the Red Sox head-to-head.
This season, the Yankees and Red Sox have squared off in three series, and whichever team had home field advantage won the three-game set; the Yankees won two out of three games twice in the Bronx, and the Red Sox won two out of three games in Boston. At the end of the day, the Yankees will have to win in Boston to have a shot at the division, and Happ will help their efforts in doing so. They may not have the same firepower, but it’s teams with the underdog mentality like the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics (who are both competing for AL Wild Card seeding) that could go on the road and win the Wild Card game; the Yankees have to do their best to be ready for whatever situation they’re in.
Happ and Britton don’t make the Yankees the surefire favorites to win the American League, but they do enhance their odds at moving up in playoff seeding.
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