When the Chicago Cubs needed a closer at midseason in 2016, they sent the Yankees an enormous package, led by top prospect Gleyber Torres, for Aroldis Chapman.
When the Cubs needed a closer after the 2016 season, they sent the Royals Jorge Soler for Wade Davis.
The Cubs currently need a closer. Are they about to trade more assets for another elite, but short-term, closer?
They’re talking to the Orioles about it, or so reports Jon Heyman:
cubs and dodgers are among teams showing interest in zach britton, who's back on the block. https://t.co/NF2DNe74kA
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) November 13, 2017
Heyman writes that the Cubs and Dodgers “are two of the teams that have spoken to the Baltimore Orioles about star closer Zach Britton, sources tell FanRag Sports. It is believed that a couple other teams also have checked in on Britton.”
Heyman adds that the Orioles are open to moving Britton, and why wouldn’t they be? After a season mostly lost to an arm injury (and far less dominant than recent years before it), Britton, 29, is set to make upwards of $12-$13 million in arbitration (MLBTR) in his final year before free agency. If the Orioles could move him, save the salary, and pick up young talent in return, it seems like a no-brainer.
Which, of course, opens up the question … just how much should a team like the Cubs actually be willing to part with for Britton, who comes with significant upside (his performance from 2014-16 was utterly absurd), but also significant risk? Consider that, when Britton was healthy enough to pitch in 2017, he posted a 2.89 ERA (good, but nowhere near the elite tier of closers), a 72.6% groundball rate (super elite, but down from 2016 and 2015), an 11.2% walk rate (WAY up from his great years), an 18.0% strikeout rate (good God, WAY down from his great years), and contact rates that were far, far worse than his good years.
That is to say Britton was pretty bad in 2017 when he wasn’t injured. How much would you trade away to roll the dice that he can be a whole lot better in 2018, knowing that you’re going to pay $12-13 million for the privilege?
My guess is that the Cubs and Dodgers are letting the Orioles know, “Hey, if you don’t want Britton at that price, we’ll take him, and we’ll give you something reasonably interesting for him.” But if the Orioles are demanding a significant return for Britton, it’s hard for me to see the Cubs ponying up – for example – some of their big league positional talent.
Don’t get me wrong, the Cubs have serious needs in the bullpen, and rolling the dice on Britton and his salary for 2018 sounds like a great move to me. But only if the Orioles are the ones who really want to move him.
The Cubs, for what it’s worth, were also connected to Britton at times this year before the Trade Deadline.