The Orioles continued to sell off their players with any trade value by sending Zach Britton to New York. The Yankees are sending right-handed pitcher Dillon Tate, right-handed pitcher Cody Carroll, and left-handed pitcher Josh Rogers to Baltimore. Britton will be a free agent at the end of the season.
Two years ago, Zach Britton had one of the best seasons for a reliever in history. He barely allowed any runs in 2016, resulting in a 0.94 RA9. He accomplished this by striking out 29 percent of hitters faced, and allowing an extremely high 80 percent groundball rate, which combined greatly with the Orioles’ excellent infield defense. In short, a 4.2 WAR season from a reliever is incredible and historic.
Even the most casual baseball fan could tell that Britton was going to regress in 2017. There is no such thing as a true talent 0.94 RA9 reliever. Britton’s 2016 season was such an extreme performance, few thought it would be repeated.
Last season, Britton did regress. His 2.89 RA9 was still good, but his 18.0 K% and 11.2 BB% were not. He struggled with forearm tightness (never a good sign) and missed time as a result. Then it was revealed in December that he suffered a ruptured Achilles’ tendon. He did not make his season debut until June 12th.
Britton has made only 16 appearances so far this year, and the results have been fine but nothing special, with a 3.45 RA9 and 20.6 strikeout rate. However, his control has been terrible, and he’s posted a whopping 15.9 percent walk rate thi sseason. Obviously, small sample size caveats apply, but it’s the worst control Britton has shown in his seven year career.
With the acquisition of Brotton, the Yankees are improving an already outstanding bullpen. Unless 2016 version of Britton returns, he will do little to improve it, and it certainly would not be enough to make up the Yankees’ deficit in the AL East. Furthermore, as pointed before by Joe Sheehan, a large percentage of the best hitters in the AL are right-handed.
So why would the Yankees part with multiple prospects for two months of a reliever, whose recent injury history leaves future performance in question, when they already have an elite bullpen?
The best possible reason I saw came from ESPN’s Keith Law:
“...they might have acquired Britton simply to keep him away from competitors (like Houston) and because they have so much talent in their system that they’ll have a hard time protecting all these guys on the 40-man this winter.”
The Yankees have a strong farm system, so it is interesting to think that they leveraged it to keep Britton away from the competition. The last thing they need right now is for the Red Sox to make their team better. Also to Law’s point, they have too many talented prospects to protect from the Rule 5 draft by putting them on the 40-man roster. Even with an elite bullpen, I would prefer to trade fair value in prospects for a good, useful reliever and keep him away from my competitors, rather than lose those prospects for a measly $50,000 each.
Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs provided scouting reports for the players the Orioles acquired. Dillon Tate is the biggest name in the trade, but that is mostly because he was the fourth overall pick in the 2015 draft, not because he has been especially good. His pro career so far has been marred by injuries and inconsistency, but the pedigree is there nevertheless. He has the stuff to be a mid-rotation starter, but lack of durability and fastball command might land him in the bullpen.Rogers lacks Tate’s upside but is more likely to be a starter. Carroll projects to be a middle reliever.
The Orioles got a good return for Britton, and if Tate hits his ceiling, that will be a huge win for the team. This is much better than what the Mets got for Jeurys Familia, and I like it better than what the Royals got for Kelvin Herrera. However, as I mentioned with the Machado trade, the Orioles have a poor track record of developing pitchers. They will need to overhaul their pitcher development system to get the most out of these prospects.
One has to wonder how much more the Orioles could have gotten at last year’s trade deadline had Britton stayed healthy. The trade could have been similar to the one we just saw involving Brad Hand for Francisco Mejía.
I would not fault anybody for criticizing the Orioles for not trading Britton before the 2017 season, when his value was the highest. I hope they were at least listening to offers, but I can see the rationale behind wanting to see how the 2017 season played out before aggressively trying to trade him. Unfortunately, luck was not on their side. At least they did well in salvaging the situation.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.