The Yankees signed Ottavino to a 3 year, $27 million deal after the 2018 season. Ottavino was one of the best relievers in baseball for the Colorado Rockies from 2013 through 2018, putting up a 3.12 ERA and 3.31 FIP, good for a a 149 ERA+ with 371 Ks in 311 IP. The Yankees grabbed him in the expectation that he would be an impact reliever in the late innings.
Ottavino was terrific in 2019, putting up a 1.90 ERA in 66.1 IP with a 3.44 FIP, logging a 2.3 bWAR. Last year, however, while he posted much the same FIP — 3.52, in 18.1 IP — he had a 5.89 ERA.
The Yankees have agreed to terms with free agents D.J. LeMahieu and Corey Kluber and have reportedly agreed to a deal to acquire Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jameson Taillon. While the Taillon deal sends two players on the 40 man roster to the Pirates, there is still a need to clear a 40 man spot, and moving Ottavino accomplishes that.
The other element here is that the signing of LeMahieu and Kluber and the acquisition of Taillon put the Yankees very close to the luxury tax line. LeMahieu’s $90 million, 6 year deal is longer than it probably needed to be — I suspect the Yankees could have gotten him for a shorter term, higher AAV deal — but structuring it this way means it counts just $15 million against the luxury tax line for six years, rather than, say, $20 million for four years.
By moving Ottavino, the Yankees have cleared $9 million in space below the luxury tax line, giving them additional wiggle room to make moves.
UPDATE — The Red Sox are getting 23 year old righthanded pitcher Frank German, a 4th round pick of the Yankees in 2018 out of the University of North Florida, along with Ottavino, and the Yankees are sending some money in this deal, per reports, though the Red Sox are taking on the vast majority of the money.