A great source of anxiety for Orioles fans about the future is what may happen to some of their key players in two years time once they are free agents. Closer Zach Britton is certainly among these, so the headline from FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman that the team made a multi-year offer to Britton before they settled on his 2017 salary is at least mildly encouraging.
Unfortunately, the expanded details in Heyman’s article are far less exciting. The headline may make you think the team offered several years to Britton. In fact, according to Heyman, the “multi-year offer” was “a two-year deal with a team option made at some point this winter.”
Given the kinds of contracts that were handed out to closers Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, and Mark Melancon this offseason, all of whom received four or five year deals at $15-17 million per year as free agents this offseason, it’s hard to really call the Orioles offer a serious attempt to work out an extension with Britton.
The O’s closer has two more years of team control remaining, including this season, for which he and the team negotiated an $11.4 million salary after the multi-year offer unsurprisingly went nowhere. Two guaranteed years with a team option for a third year is not going to get much of a conversation started.
Brett Cecil just got four years and $30.5 million this offseason, for crying out loud, and he was hurt and horrible in 2016. To be sure, that’s a much lower AAV than what Britton would be getting, but if he can get four years, the Orioles had sure be offering Britton at least four if they have any real hope of agent Scott Boras taking things seriously.
Would it even be a good idea to try to extend Britton given some of the other post-2018 holes the current roster figures to be facing at that time? A high-paid closer like Britton is becoming is a luxury.
As long as the team is competing, that’s a luxury they can, and should, find room in the budget to keep. With any closer worse than Britton - which, at least for blown saves in 2016, was all of them - last year’s team doesn’t make the playoffs.
Perhaps it’s not a luxury that an Orioles team without Chris Tillman, J.J. Hardy, Manny Machado, and Adam Jones - all of whom will have their contracts or team control run out by then - could afford. A 2019 Orioles team that’s headed for 75 wins or fewer has little use for such a closer.
If Britton is still pitching at an elite level and elite closers are still in high demand, they could always think about a trade after two years. That may not be popular with fans at that time, but it would at least ensure that the team could get some value out of Britton going elsewhere, more than they would get now. And hey, if the Orioles keep competing beyond 2018, they’d know they still have Britton around for a while.
But all of that stuff is wishful or hypothetical thinking. We’ll know the Orioles are serious about trying to keep Britton around when they make something that actually resembles a substantial offer. The one Heyman discussed, which did not get any talks started, is not a serious attempt to re-sign Britton. I won’t be holding my breath.