Are the Cubs Still Considering Lefty Free Agent Zack Britton?
Taking a moment to talk about something unrelated to Seiya Suzuki’s “moderate” oblique strain …
I thought it was interesting that, in his discussion of how the Cubs might use – or not – their remaining $8-ish million under the luxury tax, Patrick Mooney mentioned just one specific name as a guy the Cubs might still sign from here (emphasis mine):
The remaining resources in this year’s budget for baseball operations may be better allocated toward an experienced left-handed reliever such as Zack Britton and trade-deadline additions. When accounting for the luxury tax, Roster Resource estimates the Cubs have committed roughly $225 million, or about $8 million beneath the first threshold that’s basically viewed as the top of the organization’s payroll range for this season.
What’s interesting about Britton getting the standalone mention is that he is not the only “experienced left-handed reliever” still out there in free agency. Brad Hand and Will Smith are the other two notable names, and since it’s a relatively discrete set like that, I’m intrigued that only Britton gets the mention. Wonder if there’s a little something there. Furthermore, we know that the Cubs were among the six teams that scouted Britton’s recent throwing session, so maybe they have stayed in touch.
To be sure, Mooney did not state explicitly that the Cubs are still in on Britton, much less than anything is percolating. I just thought the mention was interesting, and also wanted to keep the possibility on our collective radars.
From our previous write-up on Britton:
Britton, 35, was an absolute monster of a reliever at his peak, generating groundball rates in the UPPER 70s(!), and routinely posting sub-2 ERAs.
The last few years, though, have seen him deal with a number of injury issues, including Tommy John surgery, and then a shoulder issue last year. In total, Britton has thrown just 38.0 innings since 2019, and the results have been mediocre (almost exactly league average ERA and FIP).
THAT SAID, given the extremity of his success earlier in his career, and given that there’s a chance that he’s finally healthy, I love the idea of taking a flier. Not only could it add another lefty to the Cubs’ bullpen (right now there’s just one relative lock in Brandon Hughes), but you’d suddenly have another guy with closing experience in the mix.
Moreover, it’s possible Britton’s situation means he won’t be able to get a guaranteed big league deal, and he has to settle for a minor league deal (with a good chance at making the big league team out of Spring Training). If the Cubs are concerned, post-Michael Fulmer, about pushing up too close to the luxury tax, a guy like Britton could be a solid play.
Even without another lefty reliever like Britton added, the Cubs do have several interesting options in camp, including Anthony Kay, Brendon Little, Ryan Borucki, Bailey Horn, Eric Stout, and Roenis Elias. There are also a number of non-roster righties who are trying to win a bullpen job, one of whom (Mark Leiter Jr.) is really good against lefties.
That is all to say, I’m not sure the Cubs *NEED* to add another lefty in free agency at this point. Really, it’s more a question of whether they believe Britton is a guy they can – like they have with so many others – help get back to effectiveness. Because of his past success and upside, he’s a guy you’d love to see the Cubs take a crack on a minor league deal and a non-roster invite. Britton’s highest and best self is probably better than most of the Cubs’ other options, so it’s still worth a chance, even if you’re otherwise happy with your current lefty options.