The salaries for good relief pitchers continue to rise. During a free agent period when it’s possible that Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen could sign deals approaching $100 million, former Terps left-hander Brett Cecil cashed in yesterday.
The St. Louis Cardinals agreed to a deal with Cecil for four years and $30.5 million, putting the average annual value at $7.625 million. The dollars and deal are very similar to the one the Orioles signed Darren O’Day to in December 2015. That one was for four years and $31 million with $4 million deferred.
Drafted 38th overall by Toronto in 2007 out of the University of Maryland, Cecil pitched to an ERA of 2.67 from 2013-2015. He fell off a bit in 2016, going 1-7 with a 3.93 ERA, a WHIP of 1.282 and he allowed 9.6 hits per nine innings. He did have a career-best walk-to-strikeouts ratio, allowing 2.0 hits per nine innings with 11.0 strikeouts. He is very solid against lefty batters but allows a career average of .273 and .800 OPS against right-handed hitters.
But St. Louis came through with a four-year deal at a time when it was reported that several teams were offering three years for Cecil. Despite the higher ERA this year and the numbers versus righty batters, he got a real nice deal.
The demand for relievers looks high. That has led some O’s fans to continue to suggest the club should explore a trade of closer Zach Britton, who finished fourth in the American League Cy Young vote and 11th for MVP.
“I’d rather see Britton on our team than trade him now,” Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said on the “Hot Stove Show” on 105.7 The Fan on Thursday night.
That doesn’t mean he won’t listen to offers. Britton could bring a potential haul of prospects and/or big league talent. He would also have two years of team control left at a reasonable pay rate, at least compared to what Chapman and Jansen are likely to get.
MLBTradeRumors.com projects Britton to earn $11.4 million this year via arbitration. If that went to $14-15 million next year, a team would still have Britton for two years for around $25 million. That would seem a bargain compared to Chapman and Jansen. So maybe teams would pony up big to acquire Britton, even at a time when those top closers could be had in free agency.
My take is that the Orioles should listen - that’s part of the job. But the question becomes what do the Orioles do without him? We can’t expect anyone to just step into the role and duplicate Britton’s 47-for-47 save performance from 2016 and perhaps not even his 36-for-40 from 2015.
The Orioles won 89 games last year and needed every win to make the postseason. The American League East provided three of the five AL playoff teams. Their margin for error here is small. Taking even a small step back at the closer position could be devastating for a team looking to win now and contend again in 2017.
Dealing Britton at a time when teams seem to value relievers more than ever is worth thinking about and looking at. But at a time when the Orioles need every win they can get, is that the best move?