Zach Britton Represents Too Much Risk, Cost for Cubs

Just like the Jason Heyward trade rumors that sprouted up before being summarily cut off at the knees, it appears that the Cubs’ interest in Zach Britton may have been nothing more than a stray ember from the hot stove. They were absolutely in on the O’s closer at the July trade deadline, but risk and cost sent them in a different direction at the time.

We’re four months removed from that last round of talks on Britton, but neither his cost nor his risk have dropped appreciably. If anything, they’ve both increased. While we don’t know exactly what the Orioles were asking for in July, we know that it was enough to scare the Cubs off. The return Baltimore is seeking now might be a little less, but Britton’s salary — which should land north of $12 million in his final year of arbitration — is a little salty for a rental.

Wait, $12 million is too much for an elite closer? Have you seen the salaries some of these guys are making?

Yes, I have. And I’ve also said that the Cubs should retain Wade Davis if they can do so for around $15 million AAV over the next three or four years. Where Britton’s cost becomes untenable is not in his salary alone, but in the combination of other significant factors involved in acquiring him.

The most obvious of those is the prospects and/or MLB players that would have to go back to Baltimore in return. Then you have to factor in the not-insignificant risk of arm injuries that landed him on the DL twice and limited him to 37.1 innings in 2017, the fewest he’s thrown in any season of his career. But the primary driver in the Cubs’ utter lack of urgency in this pursuit is likely the depth and breadth of the relief pitching market.

Regardless of which outlet you prefer — like Jon Heyman’s top 80 or FanGraphs’ top 50 — free agency is overrun with relievers like Bushwood’s pool during Caddy Appreciation Hour. Sorry, Millennials, that reference came from Caddyshack, a movie that starred Bill Murray before he was Bill F’n Murray. It also starred Chevy Chase and Rodney Dangerfield, but I don’t suppose that’ll help you if you didn’t already know Caddyshack. Moving on.

As for names you might recognize, how about Mike Minor, Jake McGee, and Brandon Morrow? Maybe Addison Reed? All of them are on the market and should command less per year than Britton while offering a little more stability at the same time.

And let’s not forget about Davis, who the Cubs will “certainly engage” here in the coming days and weeks. He’s not without cost and risk of his own, but the deadly vortex of peril isn’t spinning with nearly the same ferocity as it is with Britton. Bringing Davis back is likely to be more a matter of how his market shapes up. If he’s able to land something more than $60 million over four years, he’s doneski.

We’ll probably see the Cubs start to hedge their bets by landing a reliever or two before they really get serious about Davis. He’ll need to see what other teams are willing to offer and the Cubs would be wise to provide themselves with some fallbacks, not to mention a little leverage.

I’ve previously said there’s a good chance that Davis returns, and he still very well may, but I’m starting to change my tune a little bit. Between the Cubs’ stated reluctance to commit big-time to a reliever and a market that may value Davis as high as $68 million, I’m thinking he’ll be gone. It may be a while before we know for sure who’ll be closing games for the Cubs in 2018, we just know it won’t be Zach Britton.

Well, that’s what we know right now.

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