In the eyes of some rival evaluators, the Orioles have been overachievers the past six years. With a win-loss record of 66 games over .500 in that span, Baltimore has reached the playoffs three times, despite inhabiting the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox, which is why those evaluators tend to give the Orioles the benefit of the doubt. “They exceed your expectations most of the time,” said an official. “They figure something out.” Ingenuity is needed now more than ever in Baltimore, because of stark roster shortages and a mass of contract quandaries. In discussions early this offseason, the Orioles have signaled to other teams that they will have to move some money -- and, specifically, they are prepared to listen to offers for the more expensive pieces from their group of relievers, including closer Zach Britton. It might be that, given the timing of this urgency, they can’t necessarily expect a lot in return. The Orioles probably could’ve gotten a big haul for Britton if they had moved him in the summer of 2016, and there was measured trade interest this past July, after he was hurt early in 2017. Now the left-hander needs just a year to reach free agency, and after he goes through his last round of arbitration, he’ll probably have a salary of something in the neighborhood of $14 million to $15 million. The Orioles believe that Britton is fully recovered from his arm trouble and that he’ll wholly regain the command that sometimes eluded him in the last two months of the 2017 regular season. But between Britton’s impending free agency, recent medical history and high salary, Baltimore probably can’t expect to get a big piece in return for the lefty who had one of the greatest seasons ever for a reliever in 2016. The calendar works against the Britton’s market value, as well: Relievers have almost always had better trade value in July than in the winter, because teams feel a heightened sense of urgency to add one or two more finishing pieces to bullpens. Kansas City was in a similar situation with Wade Davis last winter. Davis pitched effectively in 2016 but had some arm trouble, and Davis locked into a $10 million salary for 2017 with just one season remaining before free agency. The Royals flipped him to the Cubs for outfielder Jorge Soler -- something of a gamble. “You could see what the Royals were thinking,” said one NL official. “There was a chance they might hit big with Soler, for a year of Davis.” That deal for the 25-year-old Soler didn’t pan out in his first season with the Royals, as he batted .144 with a .503 OPS in 35 games for Kansas City. And the Orioles probably aren’t going to get a can’t-miss player for Britton, either. If the offers aren’t suitable, Baltimore could just keep Britton for at least the start of the 2018 season; if the Orioles fall out of the race, they could swap him under more favorable trade conditions in the middle of next summer.
Orioles face a tough reality with Zach Britton
ESPN | Nov 19