LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Orioles closer Zach Britton is hearing the trade rumors again.
He’s a little better prepared for it now.
“I’m getting ready for the season, whether it’s with the Orioles or another team,” Britton said in a phone interview. “I’m going to take it in stride. I didn’t really do that at the (July 31) deadline. There was a lot of stress then.”
Britton, who turns 30 later this month, was highly coveted by several teams this summer and was nearly dealt to the Houston Astros on July 31 for a group of minor leaguers before the Orioles’ hierarchy decided the package wasn’t enough.
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette admitted Tuesday that he is considering trading star third baseman Manny Machado, a free agent after 2018. In that same discussion, Duquette said there should be a lot of interest in Britton, if the Orioles make him available as well.
Britton knew it was coming. He assumed if the Orioles couldn’t get the starting pitching that they needed, he and Machado would, at the least, be on the block again. He and Machado have discussed it, and both understand, ultimately, baseball is a business, Britton said. So, he awaits word on whether he’s going or staying, but he’s not letting it consume him.
“I’m trying not to pay attention to it too much,” said Britton, who is expected to make roughly $13 million in his final year of arbitration before entering free agency next offseason. “I know the Orioles are going to do what’s best for the organization. I’ve been through it before now with the trade deadline and the deal that was almost done with the Astros. This time, I’m taking it in stride. It’s a lot easier in the offseason, especially for my family. We’d have a lot of time to address it and to join a new team and a new city.”
All things being equal, Britton hasn’t wavered in his interest in remaining with the Orioles, the club that drafted him in the third round in 2006. No player has been in the organization longer. But, for now, he’s concentrating on his preparation for 2018, and he says it’s going exceptionally well.
“Basically right after the season was over I began doing physical therapy on the knee and that’s been great,” Britton said. “It started getting me back on track and I feel really good. … I don’t need more of a break (from baseball). My break was in September.”
Britton was baseball’s best reliever in 2016, posting an infinitesimal 0.54 ERA and converting all 47 of his save chances on his way to winning his first American League Mariano Rivera Reliever Award.
Last year, however, Britton was sidelined for a chunk of the season, first by a left forearm strain that sent him to the disabled list twice and then by a balky left knee that ended his season in September. Britton had a stem-cell injection in the knee in late September, and says he has no lingering effects of the nagging soreness that bothered him for much of the second half.
And, Britton said, he’s had no tightness in his forearm since initially resting it in the summer.
“That (forearm injury) is completely over with. This was just about getting the knee back in order,” Britton said. “It wasn’t a big issue. I just needed to strengthen the ankle, the knee and the hip area and I’ve done that. I feel great.”
Last week, Britton said he had one more follow-up with Dr. Neal ElAttrache and everything checked out. Britton has been working out at the Boras Corporation facility in Newport Beach, Calif., and is now on a regular offseason throwing program.
“I’m just getting my arm slot back, getting my delivery back, just getting it back to where I want all of that to be,” he said.
Coincidentally, he’s been playing catch at the complex with another Scott Boras client: New York Mets right-hander Matt Harvey.
Harvey has been rumored as a potential Orioles’ trade target, with the Mets interested in one of the Orioles’ relievers. There likely is no match there, but Britton said he and Harvey have been joking about it.
“He’s been asking me about what (Baltimore) would be like if he’s getting traded,” Britton said. “I said, ‘If you go to the Orioles, it’d be great. I’d have a throwing partner.”