Left-handed starting pitcher Zach Britton was in the mix for the fifth spot in the starting rotation in spring training. In fact, early on he was the favorite. He had a rough spring, though, and was sent to AAA Norfolk while Jake Arrieta went north with the team as the Orioles' fifth starter.
After starting the 2012 season on the disabled list, Britton made 12 start for the Orioles beginning in mid-July 2012. He had mixed results and ended the season with a 5.07 ERA and 4.32 FIP, but he looked like he had the tools to compete for a spot in 2013. One of the previously heralded pitching prospects, it seemed like this might be the year Britton stepped up.
When the Orioles needed a starting pitcher on April 29th against the Seattle Mariners, they called on Britton. Britton had made three starts for the Norfolk Tides with just three earned runs allowed over 13 2/3 innings, but he didn't have that kind of success in his 2013 debut. Against the offensively challenged Mariners, Britton gave up six runs in six innings and was immediately demoted back to AAA.
After eight more relatively good starts in the minors, Britton was called back up on June 18th to replace Jake Arrieta, was optioned after one terrible start. Britton made five starts in that stint and wasn't bad. In 28 innings he pitched to an ERA of 3.86, but tended to fall apart before he could go to deep into the game. After giving up five runs in five innings to the Texas Rangers, Britton was sent back to the minors to make room on the roster for starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen.
In his third stint at AAA, Britton went a little walk crazy, giving up 14 walks in his final three starts of the season. He was called back to the Orioles after rosters expanded, first to make a crucial start against the Cleveland Indians (he gave up four runs in just 2 1/3 innings) and then to pitch in garbage time against the Red Sox once the season was lost.
It certainly wasn't the season that Britton, the Orioles, or Orioles fans hoped for. Britton will be 26 years old on Opening Day 2014 and the Orioles find themselves in the position of having to make a decision. Britton's third and final option was used to send him to the minors in 2013, so the Orioles will need to either keep him on the major league roster in 2014, trade him, or expose him to waivers where he could be claimed by another team.
To this point Britton has not shown that he is capable of holding down a major-league roster spot, but he's still under team control until 2018. That status plus his flashes of success might make him attractive to some teams in a trade, though he'd surely have to be packaged with someone else to bring back anything of real value. If he isn't traded before spring, the pressure will be on the Orioles to decided if he's worth putting on the big league roster or if they want to risk him being taken by another team on waivers if they try to send him to the minors.