The Phillies have joined a growing list of clubs with interest in Orioles lefty Zach Britton, according to Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia. It does not appear, however, that there’s any particular momentum toward a deal.
Quite a few organizations surely see Britton as a potential deadline target. We’ve heard recently that the Red Sox and Yankees are among them. There has also been quite a lot of chatter surrounding the possibility that he’ll be included in a deal involving Orioles star Manny Machado, another player that the Phillies have interest in.
There’s no reasonable way to handicap the chase for Britton at this point. After all, most contenders need relief pitching and the southpaw has a history of high-leverage excellence. He’s a rental player earning a hefty $12MM salary, which certainly limits his value but hardly means a trade can’t be sorted out.
The real question in the pursuit of Britton is how teams will truly evaluate his present ability level. He dealt with injuries for much of last year and only recently returned from offseason surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon, meaning the recent track record is relatively thin.
Through 13 appearances this season for Britton, there have been some worrying indications. He’s handing out about five free passes per nine innings while recording a pedestrian 7.8 K/9 and has allowed six earned runs through 12 2/3 frames. The O’s have only asked Britton to work back to back days on two occasions, and only once went to him for more than three outs, so they are handling him with some care.
On the other hand, he’s surely still getting his feet back under him. All of the earned runs have come in just two appearances, with three of his seven walks attributed to his first time taking the hill this year. Britton’s sinker is still drawing grounders, though he’s “only” getting them at a 60.6% rate — a figure that’s well above league average but isn’t quite to par for a hurler who generated worm burners on more than three of every four balls in play for the preceding four seasons. His swinging-strike rate is up to 12.9%. Most intriguingly, Britton’s velocity has trended upward over his month of MLB action this year.
Notably, the market is not exactly loaded with alternatives. There are some high-end lefty relievers with future control rights that might be had, but only at huge prices. The best alternative rental pieces are pitchers like Zach Duke of the Twins, Jake Diekman of the Rangers, and Jerry Blevins of the Mets, none of whom has an established ceiling nearly so lofty as Britton’s.