If the Orioles are truly honest, they have two choices this offseason:
Go all in and fill their most obvious roster holes with high-priced talent or trade off one or two of their best commodities right now to deepen their roster before the winter of 2018-19 wipes out all of the previous warm and fuzzy feelings.
The best guess is they’ll do neither. That’s more their style.
Instead, they’ll try to pick up a catcher and right fielder in a financially responsible manner, and be in the mix for the playoffs again in 2017. Of course, we won’t know until the middle of next season whether their prudent acquisitions have landed the next Mark Trumbo or the next Travis Snider.
No, the Orioles won’t go get Edwin Encarnacion and throw him at DH and Dexter Fowler and throw him in right field and write a humongous payroll check for 2017.
And they won’t bite the bullet and deal away either third baseman Manny Machado or closer Zach Britton – or both — for a pirate’s ransom to restock the system with high-end talent before much of the club’s nucleus seeks free agency before the 2019 season.
I get the Machado thing. There’s no one to replace his production at third base or in the middle of the lineup. He’s just 24. Trading him away now would be a fervent wave of the white flag in front of the loyal fans’ faces.
The Orioles should be thinking really hard about dealing him now.
Because it will be really difficult for Britton to repeat his historic 2016 season in which he posted a 0.54 ERA and converted all of his save opportunities. It’s hard to be better than perfect.
That’s not to say Britton can’t be the best closer in the American League in his next two seasons under contract with the Orioles. I certainly wouldn’t bet against that after watching him pitch these last two-plus seasons. He’s phenomenal.
But it’s hard to imagine his trade value could get any higher. He turns 29 this month. He isn’t a free agent for two more seasons. He’s going to make more than $11 million this year in arbitration – and that’ll only skyrocket if he has another All-Star campaign or two.
The other wrinkle here is that this may be the greatest moment in the game’s history to deal a superstar closer. We just completed the “Postseason of the Reliever,” and every team is a-frenzied with thoughts of shutdown innings from the bullpen.
Mark Melancon, an exceptionally competent 31-year-old closer, agreed to a four-year, $62 million deal Monday with the San Francisco Giants. And he’s not the best of the closers that are available as free agents this year; Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen are expected to get more.
And that’ll still leave some big-money teams without a closer, whether it’s the New York Yankees, Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Dodgers or even the Miami Marlins.
Britton, with two controllable years in his prime, would be perhaps the best option for a team looking for relief help.
Plus, if elite closers are getting $20 million per year this year, and Britton remains dominant for two more seasons, how much will he command on the open market?
It’s a mind-boggling concept, especially for an Orioles team that once traded Jim Johnson for spare parts before the 2014 season because they didn’t want to pay $10 million for a closer (a move that paid off handsomely when Britton emerged).
And that’s the other thing: Britton’s stuff is absolutely filthy, but Darren O’Day, Brad Brach and Mychal Givens are pretty darn effective, too. You’d think one of those guys could handle the job effectively, though, yes, Britton’s absence would really weaken the club’s primary strength.
You could sign him to an extension now, but I don’t see that happening either. (Unless he’s getting major security, years-wise, why would he agree to an extension knowing what the relief market is becoming?)
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette was asked about all of this – in a sense, anyway – Monday. And this how he responded:
“Zach had a great year. He perfected that sinkerball. And put together a fantastic year. He’s not on the cusp of free agency; he has two years to go so the free agent contracts (this offseason) will have some impact,” Duquette said. “But there’s still a defined market for a four-plus-year, major league relief pitcher, and Zach Britton deserves the raise. He had a great year.”
In other words, the Orioles seem content with paying Britton big money for 2017 because he earned it –and was such a huge part of the team.
Nothing wrong with that sentiment. It’s commendable.
But if you aren’t going all-in all around Britton, then maybe it’s time – no matter how much it may sting — to take the best trade offer and plan for 2017, 2018 and beyond.