The Orioles weren’t deemed to be in active mode to trade closer Zach Britton this winter, preferring to make another run at the playoffs with him at the back end of the bullpen. No matter the cost in his final year of arbitration eligibility. No matter how many days were ticking off before he hit free agency.
And then they got to the GM meetings in Orlando, Fla. and reopened the possibility of dealing him.
Executive vice president Dan Duquette is discussing Britton with multiple teams, though it’s not known how much is initiated by him. Especially because I’m not in Orlando and am just passing along what’s been reported by Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports and what I’ve heard from long distance. The Cubs definitely are involved.
I don’t know whether it’s a hard sell to move Britton or just the usual due diligence of meeting with other executives and taking in the proposals. Whether Britton is truly on the trade block or the Orioles are simply listening, which is entirely different. The former would be a stark contradiction to what Duquette told the media before the final game. It makes sense either way.
Asked whether Britton and third baseman Manny Machado will be on the team in 2018, Duquette replied, “Yeah, I hope so. We like those guys. They’ve had good careers with the Orioles and we’re planning on having them on the club. We’re building a club with them on it. And we’ll see where it takes us.”
Look where we are today.
There’s no reason to ignore another club’s interest. MLBTradeRumors.com projects that Britton will be paid $12.2 million next season, a hefty sum for a closer. His value isn’t at the same level as 2016 due to his slip in performance - two trips to the disabled list and a September shutdown were mighty contributors to it - and how he’s down to one-year rental status, but the Orioles still can get a nice return and free up more money to pursue a starting pitcher.
Britton is braced for a trade. He knows about the club’s reluctance to invest too much in a ninth inning specialist. He didn’t have his bags packed at the non-waiver deadline, but he was aware of the talks with the Astros, Dodgers and Cubs, among others, and how close he came to leaving. Agent Scott Boras kept him in the loop. He spoke with manager Buck Showalter.
It was a win-win for Britton. Stay with the Orioles, the only organization that he’s known and where he’s happy, or go to a contender and maybe get a ring.
The bullpen depth would enable the Orioles to replace Britton from within, whether it’s Brad Brach, Mychal Givens, Darren O’Day or the combo platter. Closer by committee probably isn’t the best approach. No one in the group has been in the role for an entire season. No one has gone 47-for-47 in saves and finished fourth in Cy Young voting.
Potentially weakening the bullpen probably isn’t the best approach, either. The rotation isn’t carrying this team unless some major changes are in store.
We’ve already learned that Britton isn’t untouchable because the Orioles had a deal in place with the Astros on July 31 before it fell apart due to concerns over the medicals on two of the prospects. Doctors raised the red flags.
The Orioles aren’t going to unload Britton just to save money or as a concession to his eventual departure in free agency. They will, however, continue to meet with other clubs.
Duquette still likes Britton and Machado, but this is business. Extension talks are expected with Machado’s representative. It’s a different story with the closer.
Meanwhile, the Managers of the Year in both leagues will be revealed tonight on MLB Network. The Indians’ Terry Francona, the Twins’ Paul Molitor and the Astros’ A.J. Hinch are finalists in the AL, and the Rockies’ Bud Black, the Diamondbacks’ Torey Lovullo and the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts are finalists in the NL.
Showalter won the AL award in 2014, Davey Johnson in 1997 and Frank Robinson in 1989.
In the Arizona Fall League, infielder Steve Wilkerson went 2-for-4 yesterday with his fifth triple for the Salt River Rafters. He’s batting .310