Zach Britton trade rumor season took up what seemed like almost the entire month of July. Four months later, it's back. FanRag's Jon Heyman kicked things off on Monday night, offering a rumor that at least four teams, including the Dodgers and Cubs, are said to have checked in about Britton.
This is not a surprise in the sense that, if the Orioles were going to make Britton available, quite a few teams would be interested. The elite, 2016 version of Britton would have to be a tantalizing possibility for a team looking to improve its bullpen in 2018 without necessarily making a large, longer-term financial commitment to a free agent closer.
Less clear is whether that version of Britton is still waiting to be unleashed. This was also unclear back in July, something that seemed to negatively impact the offers that the Orioles were receiving for Britton at that time. A deal said to have been scuttled with the Astros on the day of the trade deadline was underwhelming to these eyes.
Another key thing isn't clear. Are the Orioles seriously entertaining the idea of trading Britton to begin with? Heyman writes:
The Orioles are said to be willing to at least listen on Britton since they need to reallocate monies for the rotation, he’s expected to get upwards of $13 million via arbitration after making $11.4 million last year — high for a small-to-medium market like Baltimore — and he’s a free agent after the year.
This paragraph is a perfect illustration of why my answer to baseball rumors is to say that probably nothing will happen.
First, it would have to be true that the Orioles are said to be willing to listen. Maybe it is, maybe it's not. People can say things that aren't true to try to influence a market, and they can also say things they honestly believe to be true that are incorrect. Remember when Dexter Fowler was signing with the Orioles?
The other thing is that, even if it is true, what does it mean that the Orioles are "willing to at least listen"? Probably not much! If they listen and receive underwhelming offers from their perspective, then they aren't likely to do anything with Britton this offseason.
Britton's 2017 performance and injury concerns along with his 2018 salary estimate and short remaining team control are not value enhancers. A guy who only threw 37.1 innings, posted a 1.524 WHIP, was on the disabled list twice with a forearm issue and got a stem cell injection in his knee that ended his season is not any kind of sure thing, no matter how good he was in 2016.
If you and I know that, then all of the smarter people in the Cubs and Dodgers front offices surely know that, too. The Orioles trading Jim Johnson for Jemile Weeks comes to mind. They would have to decide there are better ways to use that 2018 payroll than on Britton.
With $40 million or more seeming to be available to spend already and the Orioles not seeming to target the expensive pitchers, it's tough to fully engage with this scenario. Stranger things have happened than a Britton trade, but plenty more boring and totally predictable things have happened than strange ones.
It's something worth keeping an eye on as the offseason progresses, but it's not worth a panic just yet.