It only seems proper and fitting and right and LET’S GET IT STARTED to kick off the week of the Winter Meetings with a bit of rumor-adjacent extrapolating …
Although you’ll see plenty of debate among connected sources about what the Chicago Cubs may or may not do on the trade side of things, and on the positional side of things (whether trade or free agency), you do see relatively robust – and understandable – agreement about the bullpen. There’s a clear and obvious need there, the urgency of which certainly didn’t go down upon the revelation that erstwhile closer Brandon Morrow had arthroscopic surgery to clean up some crap in his elbow and may not be ready for the start of the season.
Further, you do see a couple names come up routinely in connection to the Cubs (rumors and speculation), each of whom had previously been a target of the Cubs but is now a free agent coming off some down/injured years: Andrew Miller and Zach Britton.
I suspect if you took a straw poll of those in the know, they’d say there’s around a 50/50 shot that the Cubs get at least one of those two guys this offseason (and in a loaded free agent market, that’s actually a fairly bold proclamation).
So, then, today’s bit of extrapolating starts with that background, and then turns to a report from the New York Post about outgoing Yankees reliever, Zach Britton. The report indicates that Britton is “close to a lock” to depart the Yankees, and specifically cites that he’d be doing so in order to find an opportunity to resume closing, which he’s done
Here’s the thing about the Cubs: they are a clear contender without a clear closer.
I’m not sure there are too many contenders out there that are going to promise Britton a closer’s job, given his last two down and injury-abbreviated seasons. But with the Cubs, Britton would clearly absolutely have the opportunity to grab the closer’s job out of the gate and run with it. Even if Morrow is surprisingly ready to start the season in the bullpen, it was already far from a guarantee that he was going to be the closer. The Cubs have been pretty transparent about their desire to add a reliever or two with the theoretical ability to close, and when you’ve got a guy like Morrow – dominant, but fragile – you can’t assume anything.
So, then, if a priority for Britton in free agency is finding a spot where he could close, he might not find a better fit than the Cubs, who may have to offer him that opportunity by default (but, because of the presence of Morrow and Pedro Strop, would not be anchored to Britton-as-closer if it didn’t work out).
If I’m Britton, I’m looking hard at the Cubs.
Should the Cubs reciprocate? Well, we can almost dispense with the “should,” because we know that they are. But we took a long look at Britton as a Cubs target earlier this offseason, and the gist was, sure, he’s a very interesting target, but he’s not a $50+ million guy.
One thing I’d point out. Britton, who turns 31 later this month, was particularly good after a midseason trade to the Yankees (2.88 ERA, lowest walk rate in a few years, groundball rate an insane 77.8%). He apparently found that the use of data was fundamentally different with the Yankees than anything he’d ever seen with the Orioles, and he was able to improve his performance for that reason (in his view). Combine that with a little extra distance from his offseason achilles injury, and maybe that second-half version of Britton was more like what you could get over the next few years.