The Orioles were shut out last night by the Brewers, as the opposition completed its sweep of the spiraling O’s, who now sit at a season-worst four games below .500. One bright spot for the Orioles, however, was the return of star closer Zach Britton. He didn’t have his best stuff, but still pitched a scoreless seventh inning in his return from the 60-day DL. We’ll take what we can get at this point. Little victories.
If Britton continues to string together some more scoreless outings, the Orioles front office may suddenly have an interesting dilemma on their hands. Even with the team’s struggles in the rotation, the decision to buy or sell at the end of the month has suddenly gotten a little murkier. There are two ways to look at Zach’s return.
The Orioles are adding the best closer in the game
Currently sitting at 40-44 on the season, the Orioles are objectively playing some awful baseball, but they’re still less than four games out of the hunt for the AL’s second wildcard spot. Much like the rest of the middling teams in the AL, the Orioles may be looking to buy before the trade deadline at the end of the month.
Even with a depleted farm, Britton’s return allows the Orioles to add a reliever more dominant than any on the market.
The O’s haven’t been playing like a playoff team, sometimes barely even a major league team, but with Zach Britton healthy and on the roster, they’ve now gone 13-7. Granted, most of those wins came as part of the team’s scorching start to season and that is one pathetic sample size, but who’s to say Britton’s presence wasn’t a major reason for the team’s success in April?
It’s easy to point to the team’s starting pitching woes, but maybe Britton’s addition slides the pieces of the puzzle to mitigate the rotation’s struggles just enough.
If Dan Duquette really plans on the Orioles being buyers at the deadline in 2017, he certainly won’t have the prospects to add a single player capable of improving the team as much as number 53. If anything, it’s easy to question if the Orioles farm system has enough desirable, and more importantly expendable, prospects to return a single piece of significance.
Even if Britton’s insertion at the back-end of the Orioles bullpen pushes the needle in the right direction, the O’s still have an uphill climb towards the playoffs. As Mark pointed out yesterday, it’s hard to see a team that’s gone 18-35 over their last 53 games suddenly finishing out the year at a .628 clip. With that in mind, maybe the Orioles didn’t add back the league’s best closer, but the league’s best veteran trade chip.
Will a three-week showcase be enough?
In the words of Captain Hindsight, the Orioles probably should’ve dealt Britton last off-season. While there is always merit to trading players at their peak values, the Orioles had plans for Britton to lead their own bullpen this year. It’s not like it was the team’s plan to be four games under .500 on July 6th.
That being said, compared to the off-season, a healthy Britton may actually present a larger trade value to the Orioles at the deadline due to simple supply and demand. Fans complaining we should have dealt him in the winter are quick to forget that few teams were looking for closers. For those organizations that were in the market, Chapman, Jansen, and Melancon were all available without having to surrender prospects.
Flash forward to mid-season and you suddenly have multiple teams looking for bullpen help, and the best name on the market is David Robertson. It will be a very different market than last winter.
Of course, the key to all of this talk is Britton’s health. This won’t be a conversation in three weeks if he begins letting up runs more frequently than he has over the last three and a half seasons. Likewise, this won’t be a conversation if he heaven forbid ends back on the DL. But, if he is able to say healthy and perform for three weeks, the Orioles may just get an offer too good to refuse. The Yankees received a serious haul for dealing Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman just last year.
There are several teams around the league, particularly one that plays 35 miles south, that may be willing to part with some heralded prospects to add an arm like Britton, and Brach as well. Whether or not Peter Angelos would be okay with giving the Nationals their missing piece in the middle of the MASN fiasco is another discussion entirely, but there will definitely be suitors for the game’s most dominant closer from 2016.
This month will determine a lot for The Birds
If the Orioles’ current slide continues, they will almost certainly be out of the wildcard picture at the end of the month. Perhaps most of your are actively rooting for this to be the case. I’ve mentioned before that I’m terrified of the Orioles mortgaging the future in an attempt to make this 2017 team a winner.
On the other hand, Britton’s return may give the team the boost it has needed over the last two months. Say the Orioles enter the last week of July less than a game out of the wildcard spot. Is it worth it with this rotation to put some chips on the table and see how it plays out?
Fans already have their minds made up as to what the Orioles should do, but these next few weeks will be of great importance when it comes to the front office’s decision making.