BALTIMORE—Six days after the Orioles announced they were beginning to rebuild their team with the trade of Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers, they followed it by sending one of baseball’s best closers, Zach Britton, to the New York Yankees for three minor league pitchers.
Britton, who had been in the Orioles’ organization since 2006 — longer than any other player — and set an American League record with 60 consecutive converted saves in 2017, joins an already stacked Yankees bullpen.
New York sent right-handed pitchers Dillon Tate and Cody Carroll and left-hander Josh Rogers to the Orioles. Tate, who is considered the deal’s top get, goes to Double-A Bowie while Carroll, a reliever, and Rogers go to Triple-A Norfolk.
Britton learned of the trade reports during a rain delay in the Orioles’ 7-6 win over the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday. When the game resumed, Britton returned to the bullpen and watched the rest of the game with his teammates, but didn’t pitch.
The trade became official at 11:45 p.m.
“Weird. Been here for 12 years, black and orange,” Britton said. “It’s been crazy. It’s been a great 12 years.”
Britton began his Orioles career as a starter in 2011, five years after he was drafted, but real success didn’t come until 2014, when he became a reliever.
He was an instant hit in the bullpen and when he became the team’s closer in May 2014, the team flourished. The Orioles handily won the American League East in 2014, and Britton had the first of three outstanding seasons, saving 37 games and pitching to a 1.65 ERA.
In 2016, Britton saved 47 games without a blown opportunity and had an ERA of 0.54. He finished fourth in the Cy Young voting.
After missing much of the first half of 2017 because of a forearm injury, Britton tore his right Achilles’ tendon in December and underwent surgery. He didn’t appear in a game until June 12 and was 1-0 with a 3.45 ERA with four saves in 16 games.
“I was looking at the numbers today, and Zach, in July, looks like he’s back to his old self,” Orioles Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette said.
“Personally, I love the kid…He’s going to a good organization. Of course, they really wanted him to bolster their run to the playoffs. They got a good one, and we really appreciate the work Zach did for us over the years.”
The Yankees already have Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances and David Robertson in late-inning roles, and Britton will help make their bullpen even stronger.
“I know what the feeling’s like when you’re a winning ballclub and you get in that clubhouse, you can feel it,” Britton said. “Hopefully, I can step right in and do a good job.”
New York emerged as the winner in the Britton sweepstakes, beating out Houston, which pursued him in July 2017.
“The Yanks have good depth to their farm system,” Duquette said. “I think the depth of their farm system was attractive to us, and the fact that these pitchers are relatively close to the major leagues.
“We had some offers from some other clubs for some players with less experience that were younger players, and we just felt that this was a good fit for helping staff our teams here for the next couple years with a couple of potential starting pitchers and a reliever.”
After weeks of speculation, Britton is relieved to know his next destination, but it’s a bittersweet time.
“I’m definitely sad to be leaving,” Britton said. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity to win some games again, but it’s never going to be easy coming back here and playing against these guys especially.”
The Orioles will be in New York next Tuesday, the non-waiver trade deadline.
“Really weird. I’ve never played against these guys before,” Britton said. “It’ll be weird to be wearing the Yankee uniform and competing with the Orioles.”
With Machado and Britton traded, the Orioles can turn their attention to Adam Jones and Brad Brach, who closed Tuesday’s win.
“I don’t know, it’s totally out of my control. If it happens it happens,” Brach said after the game.
Jones can veto any trade because he’s been in the major leagues for 10 years, and five with the Orioles.
“I don’t know if I’d say that Adam Jones is on the market,” Duquette said. “I did say the other day that once you start the rebuild, with the Manny trade, we basically said we’re setting off in a new direction, we’re going to rebuild our roster so we can be competitive with these super teams in the American League East.
“And we’re going to look at all the options. So, that means we have to look at all the options with the veteran players that are going to be free agents at the end of the year, and Adam is one of them.
“Adam has a no-trade, so anything that the club would be interested in doing we’d have to involve Adam, and we’re not at the point where we have a deal and we’re going to sit down and involve Adam in that. But the club will certainly look at all the options.”
Manager Buck Showalter addressed the media shortly before the deal became official.
“If and when it happens, somebody’s going to get a very special pitcher and special young man,” Showalter said.
Even though the trade had become official only a few minutes before, Britton was already thinking of the future.
“Hopefully, it’s not the last time I play here,” Britton said. “Hopefully, sometime down the road, I can come back here and maybe finish it out.”