The Orioles unexpected acquisition of starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson on Friday night was ultimately a bit of a head-scratcher. On its face, the move seems to be harmless enough, if likely pointless. What was concerning about it was whether it was sending a message that the Orioles might see themselves as buyers, rather than sellers.
Following the trade, Ken Rosenthal offered more information to dispel that concern. He said that even after acquiring Hellickson, the Orioles are still looking to move their relievers who might be their best trade assets, Zach Britton and Brad Brach.
While this doesn't guarantee that a deal will be made, and even if they do make a deal, there's no guarantee it works out, what's encouraging about that is that it shows that the Orioles front office is most likely thinking the season is not going anywhere good.
If there was any doubt about that, Chris Tillman's latest poor outing as the O's lost to the Rangers on Friday night surely helped to put it aside. The Orioles are now 6.5 games out of a wild card spot with six teams to pass and 60 games left to play. It's likely they would need, at a bare minimum, to go 37-23 from here on. That's a .617 winning percentage.
Thinking at least a little bit about 2018 and beyond is important. That GM Dan Duquette seems to be doing so is a good thing. Whether he'll be able to do anything about it is something we'll find out over the next two days heading into the trading deadline.
Questions about Britton's health seem to be widespread. You can pick just about any national baseball writer who's talked about Britton over the next few days and they all seem to hit the same notes, particularly focusing on the fact that Britton hasn't pitched on back-to-back days since returning from the disabled list.
Rosenthal was among the writers who shared that concern. It's possible that he briefly confused the Orioles closer for a Bath and Body Works candle because he describes Britton as being "the most enticing, intoxicating player available." Maybe perfume or cologne, the kind of thing that's sold with images of rippling, muscular bodies on a yacht and whispered French phrases? Sorry, I'll move on.
Why does the back-to-back days pitching thing matter? Here's ESPN writer Jerry Crasnick on the concern:
Big question for clubs: How will Britton's velo hold up on 2nd day? If it's still 96 or so, that's a good sign. Dip to 93 ... not so much.— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) July 28, 2017
If this is something that a team needs to see before pulling the trigger on a trade, then the Orioles must pitch Britton on both Saturday and Sunday, since he wasn't used in Friday's game. There won't be another game after those before the trade deadline arrives. If they don't do that, all of this talking about trading Britton soon may be moot.
Crasnick includes the Cubs, Dodgers, and Astros as teams who might participate in a late-developing market for Britton. The Nationals remain a fit as well, says Crasnick, but we all know why they're not very likely to get Britton.
None of this even touches the idea of trading Brach, who might actually be more appealing to more teams because he will come with a lower salary cost. While Britton is making over $11 million this season and probably due to collect $15 million or more next year, Brach is making just about $3 million this year. Even if he doubles his salary for next year, that's still a much lower cost than Britton.
I don't actually want the Orioles to trade either one of these guys. I want all of the players who are here now to be good forever and stick around forever. But that's not how it works. They're not all sticking around forever. Some players aren't good this year and while some of them will improve, others may only get worse.
There comes a point where the Orioles are going to have to start thinking about the next set of players coming along. When you have the worst starting rotation in the American League at the end of July, you're pretty dang close to that point. The next 48 hours could have a huge impact on the near future of the franchise.