The chances of the Baltimore Orioles trading star closer Zach Britton this winter for future building blocks — let alone any last drop of hope they had of seeing Britton close out meaningful games for them in September and October — more than likely died Wednesday with the news that Britton ruptured his right Achilles’ tendon during a workout the day before, an injury that could keep him out at least six months.
Britton, who turns 30 this weekend, was working out in California when he suffered the injury. The Orioles learned of it Tuesday night and believe surgery will be required. The Athletic first reported the news Wednesday morning.
A six-month timetable, though far from assured, would put Britton back on the mound in late June — enough time, more than likely, to reestablish his value ahead of free agency at the end of the season, but perhaps not enough time to rebuild his trade value ahead of the July 31 deadline.
The Orioles, who are caught between not having enough starting pitching to contend in the stacked AL East and not wanting to give up on 2018, nearly traded Britton at July’s trade deadline — with the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers, this year’s World Series participants, coming closest to landing him — and were exploring deals for him again this winter. He is in his final year of salary-arbitration eligibility and is expected to make in the neighborhood of $12 million in 2018, with free agency awaiting at the end of the year.
While the trade market for Britton this winter was overshadowed by that for superstar third baseman Manny Machado — another free-agent-to-be whom the Orioles are also shopping — the relief market has exploded this winter, with a slew of multiyear, eight-figure deals handed out to free agent relievers, which had sparked renewed interest in Britton.
Needing at least two more front-line starting pitchers to have any hope of competing against AL East mammoths Boston and New York, the Orioles were prepared to trade some of their most marketable players this winter. But because of the pending free agency for both Machado and Britton, which means their rights would only be guaranteed for teams for the 2018 seasons, teams have been reluctant to part with the pieces the Orioles were seeking — increasing the likelihood the Orioles would hold onto both players, at least for now.
Britton, an all-star in both 2015 and 2016 — the latter season, in which he posted a 0.54 ERA and allowed just one earned run after April 30, ranks as one of the greatest seasons by a reliever in history — missed more than a third of the 2017 season with elbow injuries, as the Orioles collapsed to a 75-87, last-place finish.
With Britton out for at least the first half of the 2018 season, the Orioles would likely turn again to right-hander Brad Brach — yet another pending free agent whom the team had shopped — as their closer. Brach, himself an all-star in 2016, filled in capably during Britton’s absence in 2017, converting 18 of 24 save attempts.
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