11:46am: The Yankees are covering just $850K of Ottavino’s salary,
11:30am: Feinsand tweets that “it appears” the Red Sox are taking on Ottavino’s $8MM salary and a deferred $3MM signing bonus that is due to be paid out in 2022. In doing so, they’ll effectively purchase a new pitching prospect and take on a potential bounceback reliever (who could be a deadline trade candidate if the Sox are out of the division hunt). The Yankees, meanwhile, will shed Ottavino’s $9MM luxury-tax hit.
11:16am: The Yankees have traded right-hander Adam Ottavino to the Red Sox, reports Lindsey Adler of The Athletic (via Twitter). Joel Sherman of the New York Post adds that the Yankees are sending Ottavino and a prospect to Boston. The Red Sox are taking on “most” of Ottavino’s $8MM salary, per Sherman, which will help the Yankees to distance themselves from the $210MM luxury-tax barrier — a threshold they were nearly up against prior to agreeing to this swap.
After acquiring Jameson Taillon from the Pirates and agreeing to terms with DJ LeMahieu and Corey Kluber, the Yankees found themselves with roughly one million dollars separating them from the tax threshold, per Roster Resource’s Jason Martinez. Shedding the bulk of Ottavino’s remaining salary will give the Yankees some vital breathing room as they look to round out their offseason dealings. The Yankees have recently spoken to Brett Gardner’s camp about a reunion, and the club could yet be in the hunt for affordable rotation depth even after adding Kluber and Taillon. Both are coming off injury-ruined 2020 seasons, after all, and the rest of the team’s rotation comes with similar workload concerns.
The trade between the two teams is the first in seven years and, as MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand points out, only the second trade that Yankees GM Brian Cashman has ever made with his organization’s top rival.
While finances are the clear driving factor in this trade, it’s unlikely the Yankees would’ve made the move had Ottavino not struggled through a dismal showing in last year’s shortened season. The 35-year-old appeared in 24 games but totaled just 18 1/3 innings of work, yielding a dozen runs on 20 hits and nine walks with 25 punchouts in that time. Ottavino’s 5.89 ERA was his highest since debuting as a rookie with the Cardinals back in 2010, although fielding-independent metrics were more bullish on his work (3.52 FIP, 3.62 SIERA).
Control has never been a strong point for Ottavino, but he dropped his walk rate from 13.8 percent in 2017-19 to 10.6 percent last year. It’s easy to call his ERA a result of a sky-high .375 average on ball in play, but Ottavino’s struggles appeared to be more than a function of simple bad luck. In spite of his improved control, the right-hander’s strikeout rate dipped a bit (31.5 percent to 29.4 percent), and Ottavino yielded hard contact at a career-high rate (90.6 mph average exit velocity; 50 percent hard-hit rate).
Ottavino was a high-quality reliever as recently as 2018-19 between the Rockies and Yankees, however, when he logged a combined 2.19 ERA and 33.8 percent strikeout rate through 144 innings of work. The Red Sox will hope that he can bounce back to that form, but the trade in some ways underscores how both clubs are realistic about Boston’s chances of competing in 2021. If the Red Sox expected to compete, would they help the Yankees by giving them further payroll space to operate underneath the tax threshold? And if the Yankees viewed the Red Sox as a threat, would they risk sending a talented reliever — albeit one in need of a rebound — to their nemesis?
Boston’s motivation in making the deal, surely, was in part to hope that Ottavino will rebound but also to purchase a pitching prospect who isn’t terribly far off from the big leagues. The 23-year-old German was a fourth-round pick out of college and a late riser on draft boards in 2018, as Eric Longenhagen wrote last year at FanGraphs. German added muscle to a projectable frame between his junior and senior years of college and saw his velocity spike late in the 2018 NCAA season. He’s continued to add velocity in pro ball, per Longenhagen, though there are concerns about his secondary offerings. MLB.com previously ranked German 24th among Yankees prospects, so he’ll settle somewhere into the middle tiers of the Red Sox’ rankings now.