As if the rumor mill surrounding superstar third baseman, Manny Machado, weren’t enough to cast a dark cloud over the Orioles’ offseason they have now also lost their All-Star closer. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic has reported that Zach Britton ruptured his achilles while working out in California.
This is a severe injury that will put Britton on the shelf for at least six months, which projects him to return to baseball in June of 2018. That is, of course, assuming that the achilles injury fully heals and that Britton is in shape to return. Any sort of setback could push his return into July or August, with the worst case scenario being that he does not make it back at all for the 2018 season.
Achilles injuries can be career-enders which, naturally, has many Orioles fans and executives worried about the exceptional left-hander. Britton, 29, became the masterclass of the closer position in 2016, recording 47 saves in 47 opportunities, with a mystifying 0.54 ERA through 69 games. Britton finished fourth in Cy Young voting for his performance in 2016 and was the envy of many a manager throughout Major League Baseball for his dominance in the 9th inning.
Unfortunately for Britton his 2017 campaign was cut short due to injury. He appeared in just 38 games, recording 15 saves during that time. Despite an injury-riddled season, however, Britton was still recognized as one of the elite closers in the game heading into the offseason.
This most recent injury hurts the Orioles on two fronts: not only have they lost their elite closer for a good portion of the 2018 season but this also prevents them from potentially trading Britton this offseason. With Britton under contract for just one more season he would have made a strong trade candidate for a team that is likely headed for a rebuild. Manny Machado seemingly has one foot already out the door, as he is unlikely to re-sign with Baltimore once his contract expires at the end of the 2018 season. The Orioles are well aware of this and are currently fielding trade offers for the young superstar.
Thus, it would behoove the Orioles to begin trading off their other valuable assets, such as Zach Britton and Brad Brach, two strong relievers that would fetch a good return on the trade market, such as a starting pitcher to revamp the Orioles rotation. However, Britton’s injury now prevents him from being traded, and it also means that Brad Brach will have to, in all likelihood, assume the closer role in Baltimore.
The Orioles may still choose to hit the proverbial “big red panic button” and trade away Machado and Brach anyway, giving them a jump-start on a rebuild. Those two premium talents alone could bring in packages that give Baltimore a massive head start towards rebuilding the franchise. Machado and Brach are not part of the Orioles’ future, thus making it all too sensible to strike on a big trade for the two now rather than waiting.
The fact remains, unfortunately, that the Orioles will not be given the chance to cash in on one of their biggest trade chips with Britton sidelined for a majority of the season now. Hopefully for all involved Britton can return at the 6-month mark, as originally prognosticated, and show a glimpse of his 2016 standout performance.
If so, the Orioles may still be able to trade Britton at the deadline in late July, assuming that they are not in any kind of playoff race at that point in the season. Regardless, the injury to Zach Britton just delivered another body blow to an already downtrodden Orioles fanbase.