My recent dive into the ol’ mailbag went swimmingly, so to speak, but I neglected one question that turns into an obsession every winter as the Orioles try to fix their rotation.
It comes in many forms. It’s the ooze of offseason inquiries.
Is there any chance that Zach Britton becomes a starter again? Is there any talk of Zach Britton becoming a starter again? Could Zach Britton become a starter again? Why aren’t the Orioles at least thinking about making Zach Britton a starter again?
It’s been a while since I checked into it, but absolutely nothing I’ve heard suggests that there’s the slightest possibility of Britton reverting back to his original role.
The Orioles lean heavily on their bullpen for obvious reasons - a 5.70 ERA from their rotation forced their hand - and don’t want to do anything to weaken it. That includes trading Britton, which executive vice president Dan Duquette is on record as opposing.
Mychal Givens could inherit the closer’s job down the road. He’s practically untouchable right now and the Orioles are faced with the possibility of losing Britton and Brad Brach to free agency next winter. But the current setup, as it were, includes having Britton, Brach, Givens and Darren O’Day in the back end of the bullpen.
Britton went on the disabled list twice with a strained left forearm and the Orioles shut him down in September with soreness in his left knee that required a stem cell injection and the continued use of a brace. He’s been cleared to undergo a normal offseason. It’s not supposed to include stretching him out again as a starter and rolling the dice that he’d withstand the physical toll.
The counterargument rings loud and makes sense, which always enhances a debate.
Britton has past experience in the rotation with 139 starts in the minors and 46 as an Oriole. Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy are the only starters from 2017 assured of returning next season and the Orioles aren’t going to spend big on replacements. There will be lots of competition for the better second-tier arms on the free agent market, a group that includes Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn. The farm system doesn’t have three or four young pitchers beating down the door to replace the likes of Chris Tillman - who could be re-signed - Ubaldo Jiménez, Wade Miley and Jeremy Hellickson.
With one more year of arbitration eligibility, Britton is going to get another bump in pay after making $11.4 million in 2017. The Orioles traded Jim Johnson in December 2013 because they didn’t want to give a closer $10 million. Britton is a special case, but it’s still a lot of money for a ninth-inning specialist.
It’s not out of line for what starters are making these days.
Britton himself has wondered whether salary would factor into the Orioles’ decision to bring him back next year. They won’t non-tender him and they won’t trade him, so yes, he’s going to break camp with the team and jog down the orange carpet on opening day.
There’s a popular assumption that Britton is itching to be a starter again. Scratch that. He’s taken to closing like a duck to water, or a duck to a l’orange, and the pay certainly is nice. There’s gold in them thar hills for elite relievers toeing the rubber.
(You see, “hills” is another word for “mounds” and I was trying to ... never mind)
Britton’s last start with the Orioles came on Sept. 4, 2013 in Cleveland, where he allowed four runs and six hits in 2 1/3 innings in a 6-4 loss. He made one more appearance, tossing 3 2/3 scoreless innings on Sept. 27 against the Red Sox at Camden Yards after relieving Scott Feldman, who was charged with eight runs in 2 1/3 innings.
You know the rest. Britton was stashed in the bullpen in 2014 because he was out of options, replaced Tommy Hunter as closer and notched 135 saves over the next four seasons.
The rotation is broke. Britton is not. The Orioles seem unlikely to fiddle with him.
Meanwhile, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America will unveil its Rookies of the Year tonight in the American and National League.
There was more drama in an episode of “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.”
It won’t keep you on the edge of your seat, but we’ll learn whether Trey Mancini finished second or third in voting. He’s a finalist with the Yankees’ Aaron Judge and the Red Sox’s Andrew Benintendi.
Judge and the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger have already made room in their trophy case.
The GM meetings begin today in Orlando, Fla., and run through Thursday.
It’s unusual but not unprecedented for deals to be consummated. It’s more about laying the groundwork for potential trades at the Winter Meetings.