Neither the pitcher nor the team is new, but it’s trade season and it’s always good to follow up on any info that comes across the ol’ blotter. Which is why my ears perked up when 670 The Score’s Bruce Levine wrote Sunday that the Cubs “are one of eight contending teams talking to the Baltimore Orioles about reliever Zach Britton.”
Now, we’ve been hearing about this for at least the last year. The Cubs were talking with the Orioles about Britton at last year’s deadline and again this past winter. That’s why CI had him on our breakdown of potential Cubs trade targets last week despite the lack of “concrete” rumors.
The Orioles backed out of an agreed-upon deal with the Astros last July, after which the baseball gods smote Baltimore by rupturing Britton’s Achilles. That basically tanked his value for 11 months, though he’s been building it back since June 12. Well, it did take a little while to shake the rust off.
Britton walked three that first time out, not great for a high-leverage guy. He’s only walked five in 13 outings (12.2 IP) since, so that’s a good sign. And while his 3.95 ERA leaves a bit to be desired from those who care about such things, that all comes from one game in which he gave up four runs and another in which he gave up two. Thing is, those are the only times an opponent has scored against him this season.
He wasn’t immediately thrown back into the closer’s role, but worked his way back and has now earned a save in three of his last four appearances. He’s pitched on consecutive days only three times as well, though two of those occasions make up those same last four appearances. That provides a little supporting value for what’s been lost to a combination of limited club control (he’s a free agent after the season), the recent health issue, and the Orioles’ notoriously fickle negotiating practices.
Looking at their current situation, Britton seems like a strange target for the Cubs. With the way Brandon Morrow is pitching, they certainly don’t need a closer. Nor is there a clear need for help getting to Morrow, since Carl Edwards Jr. and Co. have locked down the setup portion of games. But — there’s always a but — you can never have too much pitching.
And as we’ve seen from past playoff runs, the number of relievers Joe Maddon trusts tends to shrink when the lights get brightest. Unless you count his appearance in a suit during Game 4 of the 2016 World Series (which he attended to accept an award as the AL’s best reliever), Britton’s postseason experience is limited to six outings in 2014 (thanks, Buck Showalter). Even so, you have to think a guy like that would have Maddon’s trust in any situation.
There’s also something to be said for Morrow’s health and availability, neither of which can be taken for granted. Maddon is being judicious now, something that won’t be a luxury come playoff time. Will the manager trust Edwards or Pedro Strop, or even — gasp! — Justin Wilson rather than pitching Morrow into the ground. We saw what happened in last year’s Fall Classic when Dave Roberts wore out the then-Dodgers setup man.
Going after Britton makes a lot of sense for the Cubs. Except that his general redundancy is the kind of luxury that they may not be able to afford. The value could be there given the right circumstances, but Britton doesn’t put a team that’s already in first place any further over the top. And since he’ll be gone at the end of the season, parting with much of the future might not make much sense.
That’s why Levine mentions Brad Hand as being part of the Cubs’ “wish list.” He’s a lefty with an excellent track record and two more years of control. That also makes him way more expensive and almost equally as redundant as Britton.
I tend to view either option as being unlikely, though the O’s getting a little desperate to avoid last year’s snafu could allow the Cubs to pry Britton loose. I had talked myself into this move last season at one point and I think I’m back to it again now, even if it costs a newfound fan favorite like David Bote. Heck, I’d be all over that deal.
While the All-Star break may keep any big moves from actually taking place, you’d better believe the rumors are really going to be cranking. Strap in, friends.