NEW YORK — Zach Britton preferred to be a setup man for Aroldis Chapman on the New York Yankees rather than close for a team less likely to win.
"I had been a closer and I knew that I could do that at a high level. I felt like it wasn't something I needed to prove to myself," Britton said Friday after finalizing a contract that guarantees him $39 million over three seasons and could be worth $53 million for four years.
Britton said he had offers from clubs that wanted him as a closer. A two-time All-Star, he led the AL with 47 saves in 2016.
"I wanted to go back to a team that was going to win year in, year out," the 31-year-old left-hander said. "And if the opportunity wasn't there for me to close, that was kind of OK. There was only a handful of teams I was willing to do that (for)."
Britton began the season on the disabled list after tearing his right Achilles tendon in December 2017. He made his season debut on June 12 last year and was 1-0 with a 3.45 ERA and four saves in 16 games with the Orioles, then was acquired by the Yankees on July 24. He had a 2.88 ERA and three saves in 25 appearances for New York.
He receives $13 million in each of the next two seasons. New York has a $13 million option for 2021 and a $14 million option for 2022 and must decide within three days of the 2020 World series whether to exercise both. If the team option is declined, Britton has until the fifth day after the 2020 World Series to exercise a $13 million player option for 2021.
"I wanted to get stronger again, get further away from surgery, put together a good year or two and then have the option to explore free agency again," Britton said. "It was a grind last year. I just at times I felt like my lower body was detached from my upper body."
His average slider velocity was about 94 mph last year, down about 3 mph from before the injury.
"I never felt like myself at ever really any point last year," he said. "There was that disconnect between my brain and my right Achilles for a long time, my right foot. It kind of felt foreign after the surgery."
Britton has been working on agility and strength, and he feels his calf is at about 90 percent strength. He also feels his ability to jump for groundballs is coming back.
"You've got to kind of learn how to walk again," he said.
Britton praised his former Orioles teammate, Manny Machado, one of the top free agents on the market. "He's a good teammate. He's an even better player," Britton said.