Even as he’s working back to his pre-injuries velocity, and even as his effectiveness is not what it once was, there are no shortage of teams interested in Orioles closer Zach Britton.
And, as Jon Heyman speculated and we surmised yesterday, yes, that includes the Cubs.
According to Bruce Levine, there are eight teams talking to the Orioles about Britton and the Cubs are one of them. So, yeah, that’s more or less 80% of the realistic contenders at this point.
There’s going to be some level of gamble involved in getting Britton after his injuries last year and then an Achilles tear this past offseason, but if there are eight teams involved, then the Orioles are likely to get a nice prospect or two, even for just a couple months of a roll of the dice. All it will take is a couple teams that have watched him over the past couple weeks and believe that he’s really “back”.
Speaking of which, over those last two weeks, Britton has pitched seven scoreless innings, and his groundball rate has been nearly 70%. Obviously that’s incredibly good, though it’s worth noting that, at his best, he was some 5 to 10 percentage points higher (dude was so ridiculous). He’s struck out just six over that stretch and walked three. It’s hard to know what to make of the numbers, given that it’s such a tiny sample size. A scout tells Levine, though, that Britton looks like Britton right now.
Britton’s velocity has definitely climbed lately, as he was just 93-94 mph for all of June, and he’s now at 95-96 mph. That’s still a click or two down from where he was at his peak, though. For what it’s worth.
Again, whatever team ultimately pays the highest price for Britton is going to be the team that believes he’s likely to keep getting better through the end of the year. Maybe that’s the Cubs, maybe it’s not. There are so many teams involved at this point.
The Cubs have been in on Britton for over a year now, which means they’ve got a really nice baseline for evaluation to work from with respect to his recovery from various injuries. I tend to trust that if he’s the guy they go after aggressively, then they have good reason to believe he’s a solid bet in the second half.
Generally speaking, though, I’m on board with the Cubs going after an impact reliever this trade season.
The Cubs have a very crowded bullpen picture, yes, and it could get even more crowded 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 when he’s off the DL, 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 July is the last chance to freely add players in trade without having to worry about waivers in August. 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 for the time being, that guy can return just a month later when rosters expand (or sooner if someone needs a blow).
If the Cubs like Britton and the scouts believe he’s getting “it” back – or if some other reliever deal looks right in isolation – then I am all for the Cubs pulling the trigger, and then figuring out how to make it work logistically later.