Much has been written about the possibility of the Orioles trading incumbent closer Zach Britton. The O’s publicly fielded offers from both the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros (the latter of whom would go on to defeat the former in a seven game World Series in 2017) for Britton at the 2017 trade deadline.
The consensus from the Orioles brass was that not enough was offered, or that not enough healthy pieces were offered. Regardless of the truth of the matter, the deadline came and went, and Britton remained in Baltimore.
When the O’s tanked late-season, perhaps it was easy to look upon this (non-)decision unfavorably through the lens of hindsight. But at the same time, reports surfaced that no team truly offered the pirate’s ransom the Orioles demanded for Britton, and the Birds weren’t going to move Zach just for the sake of it.
Now that we are officially in the 2017-2018 offseason, should the Orioles revisit a possible Britton deal? High-leverage relievers are typically in higher demand at the trade deadline because of apparent needs of teams that are actually competing. Supply-and-demand dynamics perhaps make half a season of Britton at the trade deadline more valuable than a full season of Britton right now.
Because we are in the offseason, and not at the trade deadline, let’s talk about the “now.” It’s not unprecedented for the Orioles to trade a well-respected, incumbent closer for salary relief alone. In fact, the O’s did just that to Jim Johnson and his $10MM salary headed into 2014 when they dumped him to the A’s for Jemile Weeks and a PTBNL.
Britton’s historic 2016 set him apart from anything Jim Johnson ever did, but the scenario really isn’t very different. Buster Olney is even reporting as recently as a few days ago that the Orioles are more than likely to move one of Britton, Brach, or O’Day for salary relief. Britton’s projected $12.2MM salary for 2017 makes him not only the most juicy fruit on that tree of relievers, but also the one that would clear the most payroll space with a move out of town.
Also, unlike when the O’s dumped Jim Johnson, Britton may actually bring back a decent prospect or two.
A simple yet neat tool created by renowned baseball writer, Sky Kalkman, allows for the easy calculation of what a player’s excess value to their team is. This, in turn, yields a decent expectation of what a player could fetch in a trade.
Let’s assume that Zach Britton is being valued at his 2016-level 2.5fWAR (because let’s be honest, Angelos and Duq would never let him go for less).
This trade value calculator looks at the difference between what Britton will be paid and what he’ll will be worth. In the yellow field, the calculator spits-out what the excess value Britton will generate for his team will be. fWAR values are calculated at $11.1M per WAR in 2018:
Performing at his 2016 level (swoon), has Zach generating $15.6MM in excess value for his team. $15.6MM in excess value isn’t “elite prospect in return” territory (as we saw at the 2017 trade deadline). $15.6MM in excess value is more “a few lottery tickets, or one decent prospect” territory. That is by no means pure a salary dump, but it would still clear $12.2MM from the Birds’ payroll while adding potential future value.
While the bullpen would almost certainly be better with Britton, could his salary be better allotted in an area of more immediate need? Almost certainly (*cough* starting pitching *cough*). I also personally subscribe to the theory that building a good bullpen is a matter of throwing a bunch of fringe guys against the wall and seeing who sticks—not overpaying for “known,” volatile assets.
All of this so far is to not even mention the fact that Britton’s 2017 was injury-plagued and just “okay” for a guy at his level. For me, clearing the payroll space is worth moving Britton alone. Any prospects the O’s get in return would just be a bonus. Is it probably smarter to move Zach at the trade deadline in 2018 if the Orioles are out of contention? Yes. But is it also possibility that Britton sucks in 2018 and/or is hurt? Also yes. That would make his trade value “zero,” but he would still be costing the O’s money.
There’s still plenty of buzz around a potential Zach Britton trade.
I vote yes.
What about you?