Like I said in the Lukewarm Stove, it’s that time of year when the latest rumor is fixin’ to turn you on your head, and so it is with this one.
Not a few hours after finding out that, among the players the Orioles will be making available in trade after being swept by the Cubs is stud closer Zach Britton, it sounds like at least some think the Cubs are going to be in on him.
Maybe even land him:
Industry source thinks Cubs will trade for Britton. “If you have a chance to add Britton to your club, you do it. Theo has the minor-lgrs."
— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) July 17, 2017
Got a big name player? CUBS ARE TRADING FOR HIM.
In all seriousness, how should we regard this one? Well, on face, we have someone in the baseball industry who believes the Cubs will trade for Britton. I’m not really sure how firm that is, or if it even puts Britton actually on the Cubs’ radar (as in actually talking to the Orioles about him).
Britton was among the best few relievers in baseball in 2015 and 2016, and, if healthy, figures to continue being that guy this year at age 29. He hasn’t been healthy, though, missing most of the first half with forearm issues, which always makes you nervous. So, there’s a bit of a question market about what he is right now.
Through 14.0 innings this year, Britton has not been the guy he was over the past two years, posting a 66.7% groundball rate, which is elite, but far shy of the insane 80% range he was in the last two years. Moreover, his strikeout rate is a paltry 14.8%, with a 9.8% walk rate. The sample is very small, though, and you’d expect a period of ramping back up.
There’s also the matter of allocating greatly diminished prospect resources for a closer when the Cubs already have one of the best in the game in Wade Davis. Sure, add another great arm and figure out how to make it work, but which one of those two guys is going to be totally fine with not being a closer anymore? It’s not always as smooth as you’d think.
Then there’s the matter of the financials, with Britton making $11.4 million this year (not an insignificant consideration for the Cubs, who are approaching the luxury tax limit, and very much are not going to want to go over it this year, given that it would increase their cost to sign qualified free agents after the season and reduce their return for departing qualified free agents). Even if Britton is only so-so the rest of this year, he’ll get a bump in his final year of arbitration in 2018, and could be making upwards of $15 million.
How much prospect currency would you want to give up for what could ultimately become an extremely expensive reliever whom you may or may not want to even retain if he doesn’t regain pre-injury form?
Of course, the upside here is obvious: a healthy Britton is literally among the best five relievers in baseball, and with Wade Davis a free agent after this season, it sure would be nice to know you’ve got Britton ready to go for 2018. Throw in the LOL-worthy bullpen that the Cubs could have in the 2017 postseason if they make it that far, and trading for Britton now is not a luxury move.
For now, I’d advise you not to get too hyped that this is something that will actually happen, but I do think – particularly given that the Orioles are probably serious about trading Britton right now if they can get a good return – this bears watching. With all the above considerations at play, I do think the Cubs would have the prospect pieces sufficient to net Britton at this time without tapping the big league roster – though if you think the farm system is starting to thin out now, just wait if/until they make another major trade.