This Orioles offseason has been depressing enough with the O's whiffing on even bargain-tier starting pitchers and talking about trading Manny Machado. It's tough to get much worse than that, but, well, it's worse. The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal broke the news Wednesday morning that closer Zach Britton suffered a ruptured Achilles while working out yesterday.
According to Rosenthal, the precise timetable for a Britton return won't be known until after he has surgery, but is described as a 4-6 month minimum.
If the Orioles had actually sketched out a plan over the last couple of weeks, which is no sure thing to begin with, this takes a torpedo to that plan. There will be no trading Britton this offseason, nor will there be a trade of Brad Brach that's made with the idea that Britton can remain with the team and be the closer.
If the O's believed they might actually compete in 2018, this deals a blow to that hope, too. We saw what happened to the Orioles bullpen without a healthy Britton in 2017 and the results were occasionally not pretty.
This is a mess. There's no way around it. The O's didn't trade Britton in July, though they got close to a deal that may or may not have been vetoed by the Orioles at the ownership level. Due to Britton's forearm issues earlier in 2017, his trade value was not as high as O's fans might have imagined.
The reported package that was scuttled was indeed underwhelming. One could reasonably believe that the O's could do better than that this offseason after Britton showed over the last couple of months of the season that he was healthy.
That healthy, effective Britton never materialized. Maybe he got over the forearm issues, but then by season's end, there cropped up news that he had a knee issue that he had been battling for a while. And now, there's this with his Achilles. At every turn, this situation has played out as a worst case scenario for the Orioles.
O's GM Dan Duquette has confirmed the news about Britton:
Dan Duquette confirmed @Ken_Rosenthal report that Zach Britton ruptured Achilles working out in Calif. #orioles found out last night. "We’re trying to get our arms around it and it looks like surgery is indicated."— Roch Kubatko (@masnRoch) December 20, 2017
As this is an Orioles-focused blog, the impact of the news on the Orioles is the #1 concern. That will surely be substantial, though it's hard to predict them even in the most stable of times. With Britton set for a projected salary of about $12 million for 2018, that's now a block of mostly dead money sitting on the books that they can't do anything about, a lot like what happened with Chris Tillman in 2017.
This news also sucks for Britton, who established himself from 2014-16 as one of the best closers in the game, perhaps even the best closer over that three year stretch. A three-year ERA of 1.38 and a three-year WHIP of 0.909 along with the perfect 47-for-47 save season really speak for themselves.
It doesn't get much better than that, and if Britton stayed on that trajectory, he would have been in line for a big free agent contract when he hits the market after next season. Now he will not get that chance.
If Britton had been able to play out a full 2018, he might have been able to regain some momentum towards a big free agent contract. Now, if he's out for "at least" four to six months, he won't be pitching a full season and may not pitch until July, and if there's rust to shake off, it'll be even longer than that. So the O's likely won't be able to trade him to a contender at this trade deadline, either.
The offseason already wasn't much fun for Orioles fans, and now this. Merry Christmas.