Although trade-related focus on the Orioles has centered on shortstop/third baseman Manny Machado, he’s not the only big-name impending free agent that the Orioles will look to move this month.
The other big name, of course, is that of Zach Britton, a guy who at this time last year could have netted an enormous haul, despite the fact that he’d had an injury. The Orioles scuttled a deal with the Astros, though, and then Britton went on to tear his Achilles in the offseason.
The Cubs, as you may well recall, were attached to Britton in rumors last summer, and then again in the early offseason before Britton’s injury. That they’d be monitoring him again this summer is not a surprise.
Thus, I buy Jon Heyman’s report that “at least six teams [are] believed to be involved, likely including the Phillies, Cubs, Yankees, Red Sox, Astros, Dodgers and Indians.” Heyman is doing some informed speculating here, but I am sure the Cubs have been checking in.
Britton, 30, was one of the best relievers in the game from 2014 to 2016 before the injury bug started biting. Whether he can be that guy again is what teams will be obsessively scouting for the next couple weeks.
What made Britton so insanely good was that he could throw his sinker at 97-98 mph, and still have the movement of a sinker thrown much slower. It was just an impossible pitch. Last year, however, as he dealt with forearm issue, Britton’s velocity was down into the 95-96 mph range. This year, it’s down another click or two. In that time, his strikeout rate has plummeted, his walk rate has climbed, and his formerly super-duper-hilariously-elite groundball rate has become just very, very good.
Still, with a guy who’s only 30 and is building his way back up after an injury, you might like a chance to roll the dice on him being THE GUY again in the second half. With his $12 million salary and performance/health questions, I have trouble believing the acquisition cost would be significant.
The Cubs have a very crowded bullpen picture as it is (to say nothing of what happens when the rotation fills back up and Mike Montgomery maybe goes back to the bullpen, or if Anthony Bass really is a guy and needs a job, or if guys like James Norwood and Dillon Maples really break out into studs (it happens every year to some huge-velo, huge-stuff relievers)). But the reality is that July offers the last chance to freely add players in trade without having to worry about waivers. It takes only a couple injuries and a couple underperformances to leave a stellar July bullpen looking nightmarish in August and September – when it might be too late to do anything about it.
Moreover, unlike some other spots on the roster, the bullpen is an area where you can add without really messing with playing time and roster construction unnecessarily. Even if it bumps a good reliever from the roster, that guy can return just a month later when rosters expand.
That is to say, if the Cubs still like Britton and the scouts believe he’s getting “it” back, then I am full steam ahead on them going after him, even if it clouds up the bullpen a bit.
Among other considerations, right now, the Cubs’ lefty contingent consists of Justin Wilson (intermittently excellent and completely untrustworthy), Brian Duensing (great last year, disaster so far this year), and Randy Rosario (great results, scary peripherals). To be sure, you wouldn’t be adding Britton to “get another lefty,” but thinking way down the road, the way guys are used in the playoffs, you may very well feel like you need another dominant lefty, specifically.
Of note, while the Orioles could certainly try to package Britton and Machado together to a contender in need of both, they reportedly feel they’ll get a better return if they separate the players. I’d add that the realities of having so many suddenly cost-conscious big-market contenders would also limit the practicality of many suitors being able to add both players’ salaries mid-season.