The cases for and against trading closer Zach Britton

His name came up in trade rumors at the general managers’ meetings and figures to come up again at the Winter Meetings. It could be a winter of trade speculation involving Orioles closer Zach Britton.

Of the four key players on the club whose contracts are up after the 2018 season - Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Brad Brach and Britton - Britton might be the most replaceable. Fellow free-agent-to-be Brach is a potential replacement for Britton for the 2018 season. The Orioles also have closer-in-waiting Mychal Givens and Darren O’Day in the back end of a strong and deep bullpen. They would be dealing from strength if they moved Britton.

zach-britton-white-point.jpgHis escalating salary may be another factor that leads the club toward dealing Britton this winter. He is projected by MLBTradeRumors.com to be in line for $12.2 million through salary arbitration in 2018. A deal could allow the Orioles to save money here to put toward starting pitching. In December of 2013, Dan Duquette traded then-closer Jim Johnson as his salary was set to rise to the $10 million mark for 2014.

Duquette however, recently downplayed any talk of the Orioles trading Britton, implying that teams have been inquiring about Britton more than the Orioles have been shopping their talented closer.

“We’re still planning on Zach being with our ballclub. The bullpen has been one of the strengths of the team and he’s been one of the anchors of the bullpen. I can understand why teams would have interest in him, but he’s certainly got a lot of value to our ballclub,” Duquette told MASNSports.com in mid-November.

An argument for hanging onto Britton for another season - beyond the obvious that they are better with him - could be the diminished return Britton might bring via a trade. A team adding him now would have him under club control for just one more season. Add to that the fact that he had two trips to the disabled list in 2017 and his trade value is less now than it was this time last year. Maybe much less, considering that a year ago he was coming off an incredible season in which he went 47-for-47 in saves and finished fourth in the Cy Young voting.

Britton went on the DL two times 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. Potential trade partners might be wary of those injury concerns.

Also, clubs with deep pockets looking for a closer could just buy one via free agency. But that is easier said then done, with the price tags expected to be high for Wade Davis and Greg Holland. Both could get four-year deals worth from $50 million to $75 million. Closers are making more money than ever now.

The average annual value of Aroldis Chapman’s contract is $17.2 million, with Kenley Jansen at $16 million and Mark Melancon at $15.5 million.

These numbers could make Britton more attractive on the trade front. If a club believes that Britton is in fact healthy they could have more interest in a closer with a one-year commitment than having to guarantee four years and potentially $60 million plus. Britton’s $12.2 million projected income for 2018 could look good by comparison. Of course, his day to cash in is coming after next year.

If the Orioles do hang onto Britton for next season, he still could bring a package of players at the 2018 trade deadline. At that point one or two clubs or more may be desperate for back-end relief with the postseason in mind and be very motivated to make a deal and beat other clubs to the punch.

A few days before the 2016 trade deadline, and with October in mind, the Cubs traded a package of four prospects for Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman. The package was headlined by now 20-year-old shortstop Gleyber Torres. Then he was ranked as a top 30 prospect, and now he’s top five. The Cubs made this deal to rent Chapman. He helped them win the World Series and then re-signed with the Yankees as a free agent. So thinking that Britton would bring even less via a trade in July than he would now might be off the mark.

To trade or not to trade, that is a good question when it comes a closer who has saved 93 percent of his chances since 2014, going 135-for-145.

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