The Cubs had talked with the Orioles about Zach Britton back at the trade deadline and FanRag’s Jon Heyman reports that the two teams have spoken about the closer again more recently. The Dodgers and two other teams have also reached out to the O’s, who may be keen to move Britton prior to his final year of control.
Britton slogged through an injury-riddled 2017 after taking home the award as MLB’s best reliever the previous season. As many will recall, that was the dominant campaign that ended in infamy when he did not appear in Baltimore’s Wild Card loss to Toronto. You know, the game in which Brian Duensing gave way to Ubaldo Jimenez, who gave up a walk-off three-run bomb.
That’s not to be confused with the NLCS game in which Duensing gave way to John Lackey, who gave up a walk-off three-run bomb.
Most of that is beside the point, which is that the Cubs are clearly doing everything they can to ensure that they’ve got as much talent as possible in the bullpen for 2018. Should something materialize, Britton would be the third walk-year closer they’ve traded for in as many years. Which is cool if it works, but it sure feels like an unsustainable model.
Then again, the Cubs have done pretty well over the last two seasons. And unlike the haul they gave up in the Aroldis Chapman deal, parting with Jorge Soler in exchange for Davis proved to be a pittance. It’s unclear how motivated Baltimore is to move Britton, but they desperately need to fix their rotation and the closer is projected to earn north of $12 million in his final year of arbitration.
That figure is significantly cheaper than what the Cubs would have to pay Davis and the brevity of control mitigates some of Britton’s health risks. That’s sort of what they did last year in trading for Davis after he’d missed some time with arm issues. If the front office wants to keep more financial powder dry for the future and they feel confident that either Carl Edwards Jr. or Dillon Maples could be ready to close by 2019, going the trade route might make sense.
There’s also the possibility that this is a fallback in the event that the Cubs aren’t able to make something work with Davis. Again, his situation is vastly different from Chapman’s, both in terms of personality and personnel. Not only is Davis devoid of the overstuffed baggage his predecessor lugged with him to Chicago, but the former Royal’s lower price tag affords the Cubs more flexibility.
“We think the world of Wade, on the field and off the field,” Theo Epstein told reporters Monday at the GM Meetings in Orlando. “We’re definitely going to talk to him.
“Not only did he have an outstanding year in terms of his performance, but he was a terrific leader in the bullpen. He was really valuable to those other guys down there. Any club would love to have him in their clubhouse.
“We’ll certainly engage with him. He knows that we’re not known for giving long multiyear deals to relievers, but it’s definitely worth talking.”
Epstein went on to acknowledge the wealth of relief pitchers on the market, many of whom have had experience closing games. He also mentioned the possibility of having a pitcher who can grow into the closer role, which Heyman reported the Cubs might be willing to do with Maples. While it all seems wide open at this point, the one thing we can be sure of is that the Cubs’ baseball boss knows exactly what he’s doing.
These assessments of the bullpen aren’t being made for the benefit of the fans or the media, they are very targeted words aimed at letting agents know that the Cubs aren’t beholden to any one option. The last thing Epstein needs at this stage in the game is to allow the folks at Jet Sports Management to think they can hold his feet to the fire when it comes to negotiating something longer than the $17.4 million qualifying offer he’s got on the table.
Same goes for the Orioles, who are unlikely to receive top prospects, let alone a controllable MLB player, in return for Britton. The public comments we see at this time of year are all about posturing and creating or shifting leverage to get the best possible deal.
And this is just the start, so you can expect to hear all kinds of names associated with the Cubs in the coming days and weeks. They’re going to be very active when it comes to setting up bullpen options, whether that’s making a big trade or a splashy signing or a bunch of smaller moves that don’t create nearly as much of a wake. Or maybe we’ll see some combination of those things, which I think is most likely.
Don’t you love this time of year?