Baltimore Orioles Should Trade Closer Zach Britton Now

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The time has come for the Baltimore Orioles to part ways with their elite closer.

For the Baltimore Orioles, Zach Britton has provided them with an immense amount of value over the past few years. When they have needed it most, he has slammed the door and risen to be one of the best closers in baseball. Beyond that, he has become arguably one of the best pitchers in the game.

Over the past three seasons, he has pitched 209 innings while accruing an impressive 215 strikeouts against 55 walks and 135 hits. Moreover, his talent has allowed him to post sub-2.00 earned run averages all three seasons while racking up saves all the while. His 120 saves become all the more impressive when compared to just the eight blown chances in that time.

As great as those numbers all are, they pale in contrast to the insanity of his 2016 season. He posted a 0.54 earned run average in 67 innings – almost an entire run better than the next best pitcher. His win probability added of 6.14 is superb for a reliever, and FanGraphs valued him at 2.5 wins above replacement.

He accomplished this with the aforementioned excellent combination of many strikeouts and few hits and walks, but he also complemented this figures with an absurd number of groundballs. Eighty percent of the batted balls he allowed were hit on the ground this past season.

Let’s let that settle in for a moment. Eighty percent is 14 percentage points higher than the next highest rate, and it is the highest percentage in at least a decade among all qualified relievers. The next closest rate is roughly one point behind, and that statistic is just Britton’s 2015 season. Only Brad Ziegler in 2012 had more than three-quarters of his batted balls turn up as grounders.

So if Britton has pitched excellently of late and his combination of groundballs and strikeouts is virtually unprecedented, why should the Baltimore Orioles trade him?

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For one, he is about to become much more expensive than he already is. With two more years of team control, he will enter arbitration for the third time this winter. Adding a fourth-place finish in this year’s Cy Young Award voting will only increase is value. Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors has posted his estimated contract at $11.4 million with the model developed by his site and Matt Swartz.

Sure, the Baltimore Orioles may not have the small budget of, say, the Oakland Athletics, but spending over $11 million on a closer is quite a price to pay for a fringe playoff team. Furthermore, an $11 million salary is certainly cheaper than what the top closers in free agency are likely to command. He may only have two years of team control, but the reduced cost when compared to, say, Aroldis Chapman definitely has its perks.

This brings us to a second reason to trade Britton now: The Orioles are probably not going to be big contenders next season. While they finished in a tie for second place this past season, the Boston Red Sox are a deeply talented team, and the other teams in the division are not too shabby either. FanGraphs already projects the O’s to finish below .500 and in last place in 2017. Should they play like a last-place team, Britton’s value will be lost. The Orioles would be better suited to trade him at his peak now since it is nearly impossible for Britton to have a better season next year than he did last.

Instead of banking on Buck Showalter to work his magic with a rotation of lottery tickets and aging veterans, they could turn Britton into several top prospects to restock the team with youth. The Orioles may not have to completely rebuild, but injecting a few young studs into their lineup would surely go a long way.

Given the hyper-inflated value of closers in today’s game, we can only imagine the haul he would fetch the Baltimore Orioles. Remember what the New York Yankees got in return for half a season of Aroldis Chapman? What about the ransom for Andrew Miller? Sure, Kenley Jansen and Chapman are free agents, but the market is fairly thin beyond them. Many teams will probably look to upgrade their bullpens, and Zach Britton would certainly be a worthy addition to any team.

Combining his youth, cost – which would still be cheaper than a free agent closer – and potentially high return, the Baltimore Orioles should trade Zach Britton now.

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