- The Red Sox are one of several teams who are scouting Orioles southpaw Zach Britton, the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo reports. Craig Kimbrel wouldn’t be in any danger of losing his closing job if Britton joined the Sox, though Britton would be a setup man and big left-handed weapon out of Boston’s pen. Brian Johnson is currently the only lefty reliever on the 25-man roster, though Bobby Poyner (currently in Triple-A) has posted some solid results when pitching for the big league team. MLBTR’s Steve Adams recently explored Britton’s value as a trade candidate, noting that virtually every contender will, or should, be monitoring Britton as he continues his return from offseason Achilles surgery.
Here’s the latest on the Nationals and Orioles, two local rivals who will be going in opposite directions at the trade deadline…
- Bryce Harper’s impending free agency is a major subplot to the Nationals’ season, though the team’s larger short-term concern is how to get Harper back in top form. As per ESPN.com’s Buster Olney, some rival executives speculate that Harper’s relative down year (he entered today hitting .212/.353/.465 slash line with 19 homers through 326 PA) could help his chances of returning to Washington in 2019, as the Nats are more familiar with Harper’s ups and downs than any other team. Harper and the team could explore the possibility of a shorter-term contract with an early opt-out clause, so Harper could re-enter the market as early as the 2019-20 offseason if he puts up better overall numbers next season. The opt-out clause has been a favored tool of Scott Boras, Harper’s agent, in the past, and it makes particular sense for a player who is hitting free agency at such a young age.
- Also from Olney, some teams will wait for the Orioles to approach them with solid offers for trades this summer. The strategy stems from last year’s failed talks for Zach Britton, with Olney writing “the Dodgers and the Astros were among the teams that felt as if they wasted a lot of time talking with the Orioles — because in their view, Baltimore struggles with the process.” The counter-argument from the O’s, was that they decided to keep Britton after thoroughly weighing the offers presented. Waiting for the O’s to make the first move in negotiations is a risk unto itself, as there continues to be uncertainty about how large the market will be for star infielders, namely Manny Machado. “I’m not convinced [the Orioles] will actually trade him because I don’t know how attractive the offers will be,” one rival executive said. Barring an injury on a contender’s roster, Baltimore may have to settle for a less-than-expected return for Machado rather than just see him walk in free agency at season’s end.
- There continues to be speculation about what big-picture changes may be coming to the Orioles, as John and Louis Angelos have been taking on an increased leadership role from their father, longtime owner Peter Angelos. Jon Heyman of FRSBaseball.com even hears from some Orioles-related sources that a sale of the team within the next few years wouldn’t be a total surprise, as the Angelos sons had been previously thought to be in line to take over the family’s law and TV businesses rather than the ball club. In regards to more immediate rumors, Heyman hears from a source that the Orioles’ interest in Ned Colletti for a front office position was “overblown,” rather than necessarily untrue. Heyman also reports that there was little-to-no truth to speculation that longtime Orioles names Billy Ripken, Mike Bordick, or Rick Dempsey could be stepping in as the next Baltimore manager.
- Since the Nationals have been unwilling to meet the Marlins’ demands for J.T. Realmuto, Ken Rosenthal (in a FOXSports.com video) suggests that Rays catcher Wilson Ramos is a “logical” next option as the Nats look to upgrade behind the plate. Ramos is enjoying a nice bounceback year after an injury-shortened 2017, and he is a known quantity in Washington from his previous stint with the Nationals. Ramos is still owed roughly half of his $10.5MM salary, though Tampa could ask for a smaller prospect return in exchange for the Nationals taking all of that remaining salary off the Rays’ books.
Here’s the latest from FRSBaseball.com’s Jon Heyman…
- The Dodgers will continue to monitor Manny Machado’s availability, as L.A. still has interest in the star shortstop. Machado and the Dodgers have been linked in trade rumors ever since Corey Seager was lost for the season, and with Los Angeles getting back into the postseason hunt after an early-season slump, Machado continues to look like a logical trade candidate.
- The Indians are looking for the bullpen help, and they are one of multiple teams who have been in touch with the Marlins about Kyle Barraclough and Drew Steckenrider. Cleveland’s relief corps has been a major weak spot for the team, and though Andrew Miller will eventually be back from the DL, it isn’t any surprise that the Tribe is looking for further upgrades. Barraclough (who took over as Miami’s closer earlier this month) and Steckenrider are both having good seasons, though both have exhibited some control issues. The Marlins are “open for business” in discussing virtually everyone on the roster, though they’re less likely to deal young, controllable players like Barraclough and Steckenrider for anything but a large return. Beyond the bullpen, Heyman also thinks the Tribe could look for a right-handed bat for the bench.
- The Braves were one of the teams interested in Kelvin Herrera before the Royals dealt the reliever to the Nationals. Kansas City simply “saw the Nats as a better match” for a trade, and as Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos implied in a podcast appearance earlier this week, it seems like Atlanta wasn’t willing to meet the Royals’ asking price. It remains to be seen how this decision could impact the NL East race, as the Braves not only saw Herrera join a division rival, but their own closer (Arodys Vizcaino) on the disabled list today. Heyman does speculate about one silver lining for the Braves, however, as the fact that they’ve already had some talks with the Royals could help lay groundwork for a Mike Moustakas trade. Overall, Heyman notes that the Braves would prefer to wait before making any big deals, as the team still isn’t quite sure what will end up being its biggest deadline need.
- More on Herrera, as Heyman reports that the Astros didn’t make a play for the right-hander.
- There is “no chance” that the Pirates would trade Jameson Taillon, a source tells Heyman. Pittsburgh could yet decide to move some veterans at the deadline but Taillon seems untouchable, given his good season and four remaining years of team control.
- The Pirates had some discussions with Andrew McCutchen about a longer-term extension following the outfielder’s MVP season in 2013. At the time, McCutchen was just two years into what ended up being (thanks to a club option) a seven-year, $65.25MM deal with the Bucs. According to Heyman, McCutchen had some regret about signing that deal, which kept him from hitting the open market after the 2015 season and ended up being an enormous bargain for Pittsburgh. Further extension talks didn’t go far, however, as McCutchen and his team made mention of Joey Votto’s ten-year, $225MM deal with the Reds as a potential comparable.
It’s still early in the season relative to the league’s non-waiver trade deadline at the end of July, so with the disclaimer that trade are still subject to change before then, Evan Drellich of NBC Sports Boston reports that the Red Sox “have an eye on” adding a reliever and a right-handed hitter to complement the team. Drellich points out that these types of additions would not mean “mortgaging” the team’s already-thin farm system, as the addition of a righty-bat would likely be an infielder to balance out the club’s lefty-heavy group. He also cites some troubling statistics about the usage and performance of pinch-hitters for the club, signaling that a backup plan for Dustin Pedroia could help the team in matchup situations. The veteran was seen as likely to resume baseball activities shortly after returning to the DL on June 2nd, but still has yet to be cleared for such activities three weeks later.
Other news and notes from around a topheavy AL East division…
- Jon Meoli of the Baltimore Sun takes a look at the situation of Orioles outfielder Adam Jones, who’s enjoying one of his best calendar months in years. Per Meoli, Jones isn’t concerned about all the resulting trade chatter surrounding him. “I can’t let it bother me. I’m in a different part of my life to where I’m not anticipating a $150 million, $200 million, $300 million offer this offseason. I’m more just, ’Let me go be a pro, do what I do best,’ and that’s play the game hard and live with the result. All the other stuff, all the projections and this and that, that’s all whatever.” Notably, Jones is well aware that he “holds all the cards” in regards to where (or if) he’s traded, as the veteran’s been with the O’s long enough to qualify for ten-and-five rights.
- Speaking of the Orioles, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com takes a look at what the club’s infield (and roster) could look like post-Machado, if and when the veteran is shipped to another club. Kubatko notes that where fellow infielder Tim Beckham plays will depend upon whether or not the O’s get a major-league ready shortstop as part of the return for their superstar (if the don’t, Beckham seems likely to take over the position). In addition to all this speculation, Kubatko adds that Danny Valencia could see time at third in that case, but has also played himself into potential trade-chip status.
- Young Blue Jays hurler Aaron Sanchez left last night’s game with a finger contusion, Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca reports, noting that his departure throws a question mark into Toronto’s rotation. It’s not clear at this juncture whether Sanchez’ current finger issue is in any way related to the blister-related issues that limited him to just 36 innings last season, though reports of a contusion would seem to make that improbable. With so many moving parts on the Jays’ pitching staff, the Davidi wonders how the rotation alignment will shake out; there’s been some suggestion that Jaime Garcia could move to the bullpen with Marcus Stroman and Sam Gaviglio set to return from the DL and paternity list soon, respectively.
- The odds seem rather long, to say the least, but Jon Heyman of Fan Rag wrote yesterday that the Padres have at least checked in with the Orioles on star infielder Manny Machado. That connection might make greater sense if the Padres were a more plausible contender or, at least, if Machado was not slated to reach free agency at season’s end. As it stands, it’s tough to fathom the Friars unloading young talent in an attempt to chase the postseason this year. Doing so in earnest, in all likelihood, would mean adding multiple other pieces as well. It could still make sense, though, for the Padres to get a gauge on Baltimore’s situation. The Pads could face some 40-man pressures this winter, so there could be an opportunity to function as a part of a three-team arrangement. If the club is really feeling bold, perhaps it could make an early strike for Machado with plans to flip him if a sudden run up the standings doesn’t ensue, though a mid-season gambit of that kind involving a rental player of Machado’s caliber would be sui generis.
As the non-waiver trade deadline draws nearer, Zach Britton will be among the most oft-speculated and oft-rumored players to be on the move. It’s difficult to fathom a scenario in which the Orioles don’t trade their longtime closer, given that the alternatives are losing him for nothing or issuing a qualifying offer worth more than $18MM to a player who has currently thrown 41 2/3 innings dating back to Opening Day 2017.
It’s that level of uncertainty surrounding Britton, though, that makes his trade candidacy particularly intriguing. It stands to reason, of course, that several teams will be interested in the once-dominant lefty. FanRag’s Jon Heyman reports that the Astros (who nearly acquired Britton last July) and Indians are already in on Britton. It’s reasonable to expect that virtually every team within a stone’s throw of contending will check in on Britton (or already has checked in on Britton) between now and the deadline. But should Britton be considered a premium trade chip?
Britton is teeming with name value — and with good reason. From 2014-16, he was very arguably the best relief pitcher on the planet. Over that three-year stretch the southpaw posted a 1.38 ERA with 9.3 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 0.3 HR/9 and a historic 77.9 percent ground-ball rate in 209 innings. He set the all-time record for single-season ground-ball rate in 2015 and then broke his own record a year later when a staggering 80 percent of balls put in play against him were hit on the ground. Britton missed bats and limited walks, and it was virtually impossible to lift the ball against him. He was an absolute buzzsaw in the ninth inning. No relief pitcher in the game topped Britton’s 9.5 RA9-WAR in that time.
In the time that has followed, however, Britton has seen his 2017 season cut roughly in half by forearm injuries. Then, in the offseason, he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon that required surgical repair and ultimately kept him on the shelf until mid-June. He’s only just now returned, and he’ll have scarcely more than six weeks to show contenders that he’s worthy of being deemed an impact reliever once again. Had Britton been his usual self in 2017, perhaps it’d be worth giving him the benefit of the doubt on the heels of a non-arm injury. But the 2017 version of Britton, in spite of a solid 2.89 ERA, simply didn’t look all that dominant.
Last year’s 18 percent strikeout rate (7.0 K/9) was Britton’s lowest since moving to the bullpen in 2014. His 11.5 swinging-strike rate was his lowest as a reliever by nearly five percent, and his 31.8 percent chase rate was six percent lower than his 2015-16 peak. Britton still induced grounders at an elite rate (72.6 percent), but not at the historic levels he’d reached in the three preceding seasons. And after walking just 6.9 percent of the hitters he faced from 2014-16, Britton walked 11.2 percent of his opponents last season en route to a 4.34 BB/9 mark. Britton was a good reliever last season, but he wasn’t elite and didn’t perform at a level commensurate with his $11.4MM salary.
Britton still received a raise to $12MM, though, even after the Orioles knew he’d require surgery to repair his ruptured Achiles, and that salary is all the more problematic now in 2018. Britton is owed about $6.45MM through season’s end, as of today. (It’d be about $3.94MM on the day of the non-waiver trade deadline.) That’s a rather significant sum for a team in the middle of the season — especially with the number of contenders who are either over the luxury tax limit (Nationals, Red Sox) or trying hard to remain slightly south of it (Yankees, Dodgers, Giants).
So far in 2018, Britton has only faced 17 batters and totaled 4 1/3 innings of work, so it’s hard to glean all that much from his early results. That said, it should be of at least mild concern that his average sinker is down from 96.1 mph in 2017 to 93.7 mph in 2018. He’s allowed just one hit in facing those 17 opponents and picked up five strikeouts, but he’s also walked four of them and thrown a first-pitch strike to just eight of them. That wouldn’t be especially concerning in a vacuum, but given the backdrop of last season’s control issues, it’s hardly promising to see Britton struggling with to locate the ball early out of the gates.
Clearly, there’s still time for Britton to rebuild his trade value. Even if his velocity doesn’t trend all the way back up, he’d be plenty appealing if he could scale back the walks and continue inducing grounders at an elite level. The O’s could (and should be willing to) increase his trade value by agreeing to pay down some or all of his significant salary, but that hasn’t been the front office/ownership’s M.O. in recent years. (To the contrary, the O’s have parted with Competitive Balance draft picks in order to shed relatively minimal commitments to relievers Ryan Webb and Brian Matusz.)
Britton’s trade candidacy, perhaps more than any other player who is likely to be moved this summer, is punctuated by “ifs.” If his velocity returns, if his control improves, if last year’s lack of whiffs proves to be a fluke and if the Orioles are willing to absorb some salary, he may very well end up looking like the premium trade chip that many expect him to be based on his name value. Right now, however, Britton looks like a solid but expensive reliever whose on-field results haven’t lined up with that name value in nearly two calendar years.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Orioles announced Thursday that corner infielder/designated hitter Pedro Alvarez has cleared waivers and been sent outright to Triple-A Norfolk. The veteran Alvarez would’ve had the right to reject that assignment in favor of free agency, though Dan Connolly of BaltimoreBaseball.com tweets that he has accepted the assignment and will remain in the organization.
Alvarez, 31, showed that he still has plenty of power in his latest run with the Orioles, swatting eight homers in just 127 plate appearances and notching an impressive .234 ISO. However, he remains strikeout-prone and posted just a .180/.283/.414 batting line on the season overall.
Baltimore actually used Alvarez at third base more than at first base in his latest run with the team, as an early injury to Tim Beckham created an opening at the hot corner. Manny Machado had been the team’s primary third baseman for years, of course, but he voiced a preference to move over to shortstop, his original position, following the departure of J.J. Hardy, and the organization accommodated that wish. Unsurprisingly, defensive metrics weren’t kind to Alvarez in his limited time at third base, though that was to be expected. The slugger drew poor ratings at third base even when it was his primary position, but he’d seen all of 53 innings at third over the past three seasons combined before lining up there in 2018.
Alvarez will remain on hand in Triple-A and could conceivably get a call to the big leagues again later this year. The O’s figure to be active sellers at this summer’s trade deadline and will need to plug some of the myriad holes created by trading away more productive veterans. Of course, the club may also want to fill those eventual vacancies with younger options than Alvarez, who’ll once again be a free agent at season’s end.
The Diamondbacks have once again checked in with the Orioles on Manny Machado, primarily as a matter of due diligence, tweets Jon Morosi of MLB.com. There’s little surprise there, given that the Snakes were oft-linked to Machado in the offseason and were reportedly one of the more interested parties in obtaining his services. Beyond that, Arizona has received limited offensive contributions from both the third base (.216/.313/.394) and shortstop (.232/.296/.442) positions so far in 2018. The D-backs are currently hanging onto a 1.5 game lead over the Dodgers in the NL West, and adding someone of Machado’s caliber would be reminiscent of last season’s J.D. Martinez acquisition, though Machado has more defensive value even with poor ratings at shortstop so far in 2018.
Alvarez, 31, has slumped badly of late. Through 127 plate appearances, he owns a .180/.283/.414 slash with eight home runs. He has likely been unfortunate to carry a .179 BABIP, and has shown a solid walk rate (12.6%) and robust power output (.234 ISO), so there ought to be some interest from other organizations.
The real difficulty for Alvarez, of course, is his lack of defensive ability. Though the O’s have plugged him in at third base from time to time, few organizations will be really comfortable doing so. As a lefty who has traditionally done damage against right-handed pitching, there could yet be a niche for Alvarez, but there just hasn’t been much demand for that sort of player of late — as the plight of Adam Lind demonstrates.
The Orioles have optioned starting catcher Chance Sisco to Triple-A Norfolk, per a team announcement. In a corresponding move, the Orioles will recall fellow backstop Caleb Joseph from Norfolk, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com tweets.
Sisco last took the field for the Orioles on Friday, and manager Buck Showalter revealed after Sunday’s game that the player has had difficulty sleeping of late, which has affected his energy level (via Kubatko). It’s unclear whether or how much that played into the decision to send down Sisco, but in any case, it’s an unexpected demotion for the 23-year-old. At 20-50, the Orioles are well out of contention and in position to evaluate their young players at the major league level, but Sisco will nonetheless return to the minors for an undisclosed period of time. It’s worth noting that he entered 2018 with 31 days of service time, putting him 141 days shy of a full year of service. As of now, he’s not slated to reach arbitration until after the 2020 season or free agency until after the 2023 campaign.
Sisco came into 2018 with his rookie status intact, and for the most part, he looked as if he belonged in the majors prior to his demotion. Across 141 plate appearances this year, Sisco has hit .218/.340/.328 (good for a 92 wRC+), though he has posted a 35.5 percent strikeout rate and hasn’t offered much power (two home runs, .109 ISO). On the defensive side, Sisco has caught 28 percent of would-be base stealers – just beating out the 27 percent league average – but has struggled as a pitch framer, per both Baseball Prospectus and StatCorner.
Joseph, who racked up significant playing time in Baltimore from 2014-17 and has amassed 80 major league PAs this season, will pair with Austin Wynns as the club’s top two catchers. He’ll also team up with his brother, infielder Corban Joseph, whom the Orioles selected from Double-A on Friday.