07 August 2017

The Future of Zach Britton

In case you hadn't heard, the Orioles didn't trade Zach Britton. Despite what seemed like strong interest from multiple teams, most notably the Astros, the non-waiver trade deadline passed and Britton stayed in Baltimore, gaining a save and win in the week since. Details surrounding the deal have begun to leak out, with multiple reports saying that the Astros may have been a bit stingy with their prospects, and as such the Orioles decided to keep their dominant closer.

But, for how long? While the Orioles have played well since the deadline and find themselves in the midst of the wild card hunt despite what remains a sub-.500 record, it seems Britton's future with the club is still very much in doubt. MASN's Roch Kubatko has repeatedly questioned the likelihood of the team agreeing to a substantial raise for Britton in arbitration, which brings up inevitable speculation that the team may yet end up dealing him before the 2018 season.

The issue seems to revolve around the fact that Britton, who is making $11.4 million in his second to last year of arbitration, may be in line to make as much as $12-13 million next season. This would track with raises for guys like Aroldis Chapman ($3 million raise in his last arbitration season), Wade Davis ($2 million), Greg Holland (nearly $4 million, but was non-tendered leading into his last arbitration year), and Kenley Jansen ($4 million). Given the number of holes the team is facing in the rotation as well as other arbitration raises to players like Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, and Brad Brach, there may be concern that spending top dollar for one year on Britton doesn't quite fit into the budget. Indeed, spending potentially 10% of the payroll on a closer may be unpalatable, especially if the team fails to make the postseason this year.

The choices, then, are: tender Britton a deal with an almost certain salary increase and keep him, tender him a contract and trade him, or non-tender him. Kubatko's reporting hasn't explicitly entertained the notion that Britton will be non-tendered, but if front office misgivings about a salary increase for Britton are public knowledge it could torpedo any leverage that the club would have to make a deal immediately after the season. Given the repeated insistence by the front office that the Orioles are attempting to compete in 2018, however, it also seems unlikely that the team will want to move Britton for less than they could have gotten at the deadline.

That said, it is almost certainly the case that Britton's injury plagued season had something to do with the less than stellar trade offers. Over his last four outings as of August 6, however, he's been his usual fantastic self, throwing 3 1/3 perfect innings. His velocity has returned and he looks like the Britton of old, just maybe a couple of weeks later than would have been ideal. If he really is back, there is going to be some serious regret on the part of contenders that could have had him if the offer had been better.

Continued outstanding performance will certainly keep his trade value up, even though relievers historically have been valued more highly at the deadline than in the off season, but anything less than a dominant August and September will raise very interesting questions. Certainly, the idea that the Orioles would simply non-tender Britton and get nothing in return seems totally insane, but the fact that there isn't an iron clad commitment to pay Britton an expected arbitration raise opens up the remote possibility that it could happen. If teams sense that Britton may be non-tendered, the likelihood that the Orioles would get anything approaching the return they were offered at the deadline seems implausible. What both Britton and the Orioles really need is for him to continue to pitch well, which would open up multiple options in the off season, maybe even including signing him long term.

Even if he doesn't pitch great down the stretch, however, it isn't impossible to imagine that teams will be interested in him on a one year deal worth something like $14 million. Zach Britton, even at that price, surely does not have negative value. The Orioles wouldn't have much trouble moving him regardless, but of course the return could be much, much lower than someone with Britton's talent level deserves. So, the solution is: Pitch great and things will be fine! Maybe I should just send the whole team a memo...

1 comment:

Unknown said...

They wont non-tender Britton, they'll accept his arbitration raise and trade Britton if they are against paying a closer $12-13M.