Whatever happens to Zach Britton moving forward from his Achilles surgery, gentle steps on the road to recovery, he’s expected to remain in the organization that drafted him and eventually found the ideal role.
Talk of releasing him should be muted, from what I’ve been told. It’s complicated, but Britton would receive his full salary despite no resolution for 2018 after the Orioles tendered him a contract. They remain encouraged by the possibility of his return before the All-Star break. The procedure to repair his Achilles turned out exactly as hoped.
Whether it’s in May, June or July, Britton can be an asset to the club through his pitching or appeal as a trade chip. The Orioles don’t seem interested in just handing him over to another team.
It doesn’t make sense for a variety of reasons - financially, competitively and based on the loyalty he’s accrued over the years.
As one person in the organization pointed out, Britton wasn’t hurt while hanging upside down from gymnastics rings. He didn’t crash his dirt bike. He was engaged in workouts to get ready for his final season under team control, running sprints when the injury struck.
Flukish, unfortunate and not his fault.
The idea of letting him go was described as “probably not even a remote possibility.” Britton didn’t seem sure of it the day before his surgery. Then again, he’s been wondering for more than a year whether the Orioles would continue to give him raises as a closer after they traded Jim Johnson to avoid being on the hook for a projected $10 million salary.
Though the Orioles were open again to trading Britton at the Winter Meetings, five months after almost sending him to the Astros, I’ve been told that there’s now a curiosity over the chances of negotiating an extension. Whether the surgery could lead to a deal that works for both sides.
My guess is agent Scott Boras would rather toss Britton into the free agent waters, but it’s worth a discussion. And it demonstrates how the Orioles aren’t eager to lose Britton. They’d just need to make it work financially and the trade offers would have to fall short of their requirements, which happened in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Too many of us have been blanketed by the narrative, and I’ve peddled it, that the Orioles will let Britton leave as a free agent if they don’t trade him. It may be the most likely scenario, but they haven’t completely surrendered to it.
Now here’s a twist that also goes against the common narrative.
I’ve been asked countless times about the possibility of the Orioles making Britton a starter again. He was approached with the idea earlier this year to gauge his interest, according to multiple sources, and he preferred to remain in the bullpen, where he made the All-Star team in 2016 and placed fourth in Cy Young voting in the American League.
There are people in the organization who continue to support the idea - I was told a couple of officials like it “a lot” - though the surgery tosses a giant wrench in the plan. Others wonder how he’d hold up physically and believe, the way he’s wired, that closing is a better fit. It also suits his repertoire.
Pitchers aren’t as eager to escape the bullpen and work as starters now that relievers are hitting the jackpot. However, a team like the Orioles could more easily justify paying Britton’s salary if he reentered the rotation and didn’t work an inning at a time.
Making him a starter again would be a process. Britton didn’t throw more than 27 pitches this year, more than 28 in 2016 and more than 36 in 2015. The rehabbing before an abbreviated season wouldn’t seem to allow for the necessary stretching out, but what if the Orioles are serious about an attempt to negotiate an extension?
What if Britton changed his mind about remaining a closer? He wasn’t adamant about resisting the switch. It isn’t beyond the realm of possibility.
Boras would be involved in the decision while seeing whether the sides could agree on an extension and keep Britton in Baltimore.
I’m not placing odds. I just know that making Britton a starter again definitely has been discussed with him.
Britton hasn’t started a major league game since Sept. 4, 2013 in Cleveland, when he allowed four runs and six hits in 2 1/3 innings to raise his ERA to 5.45. He made one more appearance that month and shut out the Red Sox over 3 2/3 relief innings.
You know the rest of the story. Out of minor league options in 2014, stashed in the bullpen with no defined role, chosen to replace Tommy Hunter as closer, sinking fastball becomes a recurring nightmare for opposing hitters.
Games and a career were saved.
There are more chapters to be written. Maybe the story will take another dramatic turn.