The Orioles have activated lefty Zach Britton from the 60-day DL, the club announced. To create space on the active roster, the club placed struggling righty Pedro Araujo on the 10-day DL with a sprained elbow.
Outfielder Colby Rasmus was moved to the 60-day DL to make way on the 40-man. He has already been out for more than two months, so that’s a purely procedural maneuver.
Britton will make his long-awaited season debut as soon as this evening. The southpaw reliever was sidelined to open the year after suffering an Achilles tear in offseason workouts. He’s playing on a $12MM salary in his final season of arbitration eligibility.
With the O’s limping out to the worst record in baseball to this point of the season, the hope will be that Britton can pitch his way into a useful trade chip this summer. Certainly, he has established a ceiling that few others have ever touched out of the pen.
In 2015 and 2016, Britton was among the game’s very best relievers. He worked to a composite 1.22 ERA over 132 2/3 innings, with 10.4 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9. Even more remarkably, Britton maintained those excellent K/BB numbers while generating grounders on over 75% of the balls put in play against him.
Though he managed a strong 2.89 ERA last year, things just weren’t the same. Britton dealt with forearm/elbow concerns that limited him to 37 1/3 innings. He still posted a massive 72.6% groundball rate, but stepped back in K/9 (7.0) and BB/9 (4.3) as his swinging-strike percentage dove from 17.2% to 11.5% year over year.
It’s too soon to know what version of Britton will show up in Baltimore, but he hasn’t had any trouble generating swings and misses or worm burners on his rehab assignment. If there’s a positive from the layoff, perhaps it’s the fact that his arm has now enjoyed a lengthy respite.
Despite the questions that crept in, Britton was nearly dealt last summer. His potential value is much lower now, as a pure rental asset, though he can surely boost his stock quite a bit with over six weeks left to go before the trade deadline. Since he was on the shelf, Britton did not make the initial version of MLBTR’s top trade deadline candidates list, but he’s sure to feature on future iterations. And as the current list shows, Britton won’t have a lofty bar to clear to establish himself as the best late-inning rental lefty available.