Despite having already added (presumed closer) Brandon Morrow and (quality reliever) Steve Cishek in free agency this winter, general wisdom contends that the Cubs could reasonably stand to add at least another sure-fire reliever to the pen before Opening Day.
Whether that reliever comes via free agency (Addison Reed? Wade Davis?) or trade (Alex Colome? Zach Britton?) remains to be seen, but the options are out there. Er, well, one of those names now comes with an enormous caveat:
BREAKING: Orioles closer Zach Britton ruptured his Achilles yesterday working out in California. Expected to be out at least six months.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 20, 2017
I’d say that changes the offseason landscape in several considerable ways.
The most obvious and immediate is in the closer trade market. As recently as this morning (in the Manny Machado piece), Jon Heyman wrote that the Orioles were about to more seriously consider gauging interest/moving Britton, but, now his value is either totally gone, or so diminished that trading him would net them very little even if they included some money to cover his $12ish million projected salary.
It’s a bit of a bummer for the Orioles, who could’ve potentially packaged Britton with Machado to get the right return, but now they’ll have to wait, hope he can reestablish some health and effectiveness just before the deadline and deal him for whatever they can get in July.
They can always wait until the end of the 2018 season, give Britton a qualifying offer, hope he turns it down, and then take their draft compensation, but if he’s not healthy or effective enough by the deadline, he might be a risk to take that expensive one year option with a familiar team and rebuild value for the next offseason.
Free agent closers on the market are probably digging in their heels on their price tags a little more with this news, as are the Rays on their Colome trade demands.
You also have to wonder if this doesn’t make the Orioles all the more likely to move Machado this offseason, now that their team has been decidedly dinged in terms of the potential to surprise. It was always unlikely, but now, without their star closer, it’s especially unlikely.
After one of the most dominant relief seasons in recent memory in 2016 (he finished FOURTH in Cy Young balloting that year), Britton ran into a couple of forearm injuries (or, rather, the same forearm injury, twice) in 2017, and finished nearly half as many innings as he did the year prior.
He was up and pitching by the deadline, though, and with just 1.5 years of control remaining, seemed destined to be shipped out for prospects before July 31 – indeed, the Astros reportedly had a deal on the table, but it was apparently nixed by Orioles ownership. Oops. (The Cubs were also reportedly in talks to acquire Britton around that time, too, but obviously nothing came of it. Double Oops.) Instead, Baltimore hung onto Britton, hoping he’d use the second-half of the season to prove he was still the healthy, dominant closer he was in 2016, presumably, to up the packages this winter. And he did a fine enough job (25.1 IP, 3.20 ERA) that they would have been able to trade him, possibly for more than they would have gotten at the deadline.
The Cubs, if you recall, were one of the teams that had spoken to the Orioles this offseason about Britton.
Needless to say, Orioles fans are probably not thrilled about this. And, hey, the Cubs might’ve just dodged a bit of a bullet, eh?
UPDATE: Perhaps, it’s not as serious as initially reported?
zach britton said to have "small tear" in achilles. hurt self working out. surgery will to be this week, perhaps thursday. there's some hope it could be 4 months instead of the usual 6. @Ken_Rosenthal 1st
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 20, 2017
The difference between 4 months (end of April) and six months (end of June) means the world in terms of rebuilding trade value before the deadline – especially with the All-Star break in the middle of July. We’ll see.