Zack Britton Check: Cubs Still In? Baltimore Connection? Contract Thoughts?

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Zack Britton Check: Cubs Still In? Baltimore Connection? Contract Thoughts?

Chicago Cubs

With Will Smith and Brad Hand off the board this weekend, I’ve been waiting for the Zack Britton shoe to drop. The three aren’t exactly in the same situation – remember, Britton has the vastly higher upside, but is coming off multiple injury issues and is definitely the highest risk – but it felt like they were in similar enough boats that they would be signing around the same time.

Maybe I was wrong about that, and if a Britton deal doesn’t come down the pike this week, clearly I was.

Patrick Mooney writes today about the great feedback about the Cubs that Trey Mancini got from his manager in Baltimore, Brandon Hyde. You’ll recall that Hyde came to the Orioles from the Cubs, and you’ll also recall that Britton was on that same Orioles team.

“He’d be a huge asset to whoever signs him,” Mancini said of Britton. “I hope it’s us. He’s somebody that I loved playing with. He’s somebody that I definitely looked up to when I got called up. I learned by the example that all those guys set. It was such a great group there at the time. They really taught me a lot. He was at the forefront of that.”

It seems clear that the Cubs, who were among the teams scouting Britton, 35, at his recent throwing session, would like a chance to get the lefty back to where he was in his Baltimore days. That version of Britton, with his turbo sinker, was one of the most impressive pitchers in baseball. Although the Cubs may also still be looking at lefty Mike Minor (who has struggled as a starter the last few years, but might now be looking for a chance to re-re-invent himself as a reliever), and although the Cubs do have plenty of quality relief options – lefty or otherwise – available internally, I have to believe the opportunity to work with a guy like Britton is probably too enticing to let go.

So why hasn’t Britton signed yet? With the Cubs or any other team? I mean, it’s fair to assume it’s a complicated negotiation, given that budgets are all but used up at this point, and the variance in possible 2023 outcomes for Britton is so wide. That means you’re probably looking at a lot of incentives having to be baked into a deal, but that can create issues for teams that are perilously close to the first tier of the luxury tax and are seemingly very reluctant to go over it (read: Cubs).

My guess – truly just a guess! – is that the Cubs are hoping they can sign Britton to a non-guaranteed deal with a low big league rate and modest incentives (I mean, duh) *OR* a deal that includes a team option for 2024 with a very healthy buyout (i.e., a lot of Britton’s guaranteed money comes in the form of that buyout), so they can spread the base rate over two years for luxury tax purposes. For obvious reasons, Britton probably doesn’t want to give up a team option, since he assuredly wants a chance to pitch well this year, and then sign a (final?) multi-year deal. You know, while also getting the most guaranteed 2023 money as he can get.

So there might be a good bit of tapdancing going on with Britton and multiple teams, where all these competing interests are being sorted out. At this point, as Mooney wrote in his piece, it’s unlikely Britton would join his new club and definitely be ready for Opening Day anyway, so the urgency is going to start to fade away. At some point, it becomes possible – unfortunately for Britton – that a deal simply won’t get done in Spring Training, so interested teams decide to wait until sometime INTO the season, when the price tag gets prorated.

I still think, on the balance, Zack Britton signs somewhere this week. And I still like the upside so much that I’m really hoping it’s the Cubs that land him.

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Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.