The Yankees shored up two areas of need over the past 48 hours, acquiring closer Zach Britton from the Orioles for their already formidable bullpen on Tuesday and finalizing a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays for starting pitcher J. A. Happ Thursday afternoon.
Britton was acquired in exchange for minor-league pitchers Dillon Tate, Cody Carroll and Josh Rogers. The Yankees then sent the third baseman Brandon Drury and Billy McKinney, an outfielder who had been playing for Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, to Toronto for Happ.
“We feel like with the additions we’ve made here we’re in a much better place as a club,” Manager Aaron Boone said before a 7-2 win over the Kansas City Royals at Yankee Stadium on Thursday. “Hopefully these will be two additions that really help us going forward.”
With just a few days remaining until the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, General Manager Brian Cashman indicated that the Yankees might not be done dealing yet.
“This time of year we are definitely active, as everyone is,” Cashman said. “We are fully engaged trying to find ways to improve our roster. I can’t predict how it’s going to play out, but we definitely satisfied some needs here in recent days, and hopefully they’re beneficial moves.”
The acquisition of the pitchers, both left-handed, seems aimed directly at making a second-half run at the Boston Red Sox, who lead the Yankees by four and a half games in the American League East.
Britton and Happ have performed well against Boston; in 18 career starts against the Red Sox, Happ has a 7-4 record and a 2.98 E.R.A., and had allowed one earned run in 10⅔ innings, with 16 strikeouts, against them this year for the Blue Jays.
“He obviously has had a lot of success pitching in the American League East. I think he’s going to be a welcome addition for us,” Cashman said of Happ, who had a 10-6 record and 4.18 E.R.A. in 20 starts for Toronto this season.
Britton is 2-2 with a 3.28 E.R.A. and 14 saves in 32 career appearances against Boston, and has allowed just one earned run in his last 10 appearances against them, stretching back through 2016.
“I think the best thing about coming here is that I’ve pitched here before,” Britton said. “This is a pretty tough place to come in as a visiting player, and I’ve always enjoyed coming here. So I don’t think the transition’s going to be hard, but definitely you want to make a good first impression. I want to go out there and help this team catch the Boston Red Sox.”
Britton, a two-time All-Star closer for the Orioles, led the American League with 47 saves in 2016 while setting a major league record for the lowest E.R.A. in a season of 50 or more innings pitched, with a 0.54 that topped Fernando Rodney’s mark of 0.60 from 2012 and Dennis Eckersley’s 0.61 in 1990. But Britton spent significant time on the disabled list in 2017 with a recurring left forearm strain, and his debut this season was delayed until June 12 after a torn Achilles’ tendon required surgery and an eight-month recovery.
In 16 appearances this season, Britton is 1-0 with a 3.45 E.R.A. and has converted four of five save opportunities.
“I lost a lot of weight after the surgery and a lot of strength,” Britton said. “But now the velocity’s coming back, and I’m starting to feel more like myself. Hopefully I’ll get better and I I think will. I’ve seen signs this last month and just go out there and just pitch the way I’m capable of pitching.”
Britton throws a hard sinker that has resulted in a 64 percent ground-ball rate over the course of his eight-year career, an attribute that made him attractive to the Yankees in their home run-friendly ballpark.
Britton recalled that in 2016, the Red Sox slugger David Ortiz told him, “‘Your ball starts here, and then it’s gone.’ That was probably the best compliment I’ve gotten from a guy like him.”
But with Aroldis Chapman handling the closing duties for the Yankees, Britton will join Dellin Betances and David Robertson as a set-up man.
“I understand what Chapman’s done in this game, and I respect it,” Britton said. “So I just want to be used any way I can to help the team win, and that’s what they’re going to do.”
Happ, 35, was 10-3 through his first 16 starts of the season but has struggled in July, going 0-3 with a 7.41 E.R.A., allowing 14 earned runs in 17 innings, including a July 7 start against the Yankees in which he allowed six runs in two and two-thirds innings.
“He’s a fresh arm who can give us some competitive innings, and I think at the very least he’s going to do that,” Cashman said. “I think there’s a lot more upside than what he’s recently pitched like. He had a very successful campaign up to the last six or seven starts. So we’ll see.”
The emergence of Miguel Andujar, an American League Rookie of the Year Award candidate with a .294 batting average, 12 home runs and 41 R.B.I., made Drury, who missed 32 games earlier in the season with headaches and blurred vision, expendable.
“It’s just unfortunate circumstances,” Cashman said. “Brandon was not acquired here to be a depth piece, but given the new world order we’re living in with Miguel Andujar, it changed the landscape for him.”
Boone said Happ, who pitched Sunday against the Orioles, would be on schedule to start on Saturday. But he is unlikely to make his Yankee debut that day because that is also the day that Luis Severino, the Yankees’ ace, is next scheduled to start. Boone said Happ would instead start either on Sunday against the Royals or on Tuesday against the Orioles following Monday’s off-day.
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