8:44pm: It’s “at least” a six-team race for Britton, Jon Heyman of Fancred tweets.
8:14pm: The Orioles are seeking a return equal to or better than the one the Royals received for reliever Kelvin Herrera in a trade last month, Buster Olney of ESPN reports. Washington acquired Herrera for three prospects, though none ranked among the Nationals’ absolute best farmhands at the time.
7:39pm: Both the Cubs and the Astros “are trying to match up prospects with the Orioles,” Jerry Crasnick of ESPN tweets. The Dodgers are also among those who would like to acquire Britton, Dan Connolly of The Athletic reports, though Rosenthal notes that it may be difficult because of LA’s desire to stay under the luxury-tax threshold. No matter where Britton goes, the O’s hope to make a deal happen within the next few days, Crasnick adds.
6:38pm: With Brad Hand and Jeurys Familia now off the market, Orioles left-hander Zach Britton may be the best soon-to-be traded reliever in baseball. The 30-year-old has drawn widespread interest in recent weeks, too, with Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reporting “virtually every top contender” is in on him (video link). The NL Central-leading Cubs are among that group, and they “remain deeply involved” in the Britton discussions, sources tell Patrick Mooney of The Athletic (subscription required).
In at least the near term, Britton would likely serve as a replacement for Cubs closer Brandon Morrow, who went on the disabled list this week on account of right biceps inflammation. Britton has also endured injuries, most recently a ruptured Achilles that shelved him from the start of the season until mid-June. The two-time All-Star got off to a less-than-dominant start in his first action of the season as he returned from that injury, though he has been better of late as the deadline approaches.
Not only has Britton gone eight straight appearances (eight innings) without yielding an earned run, but he has seen his velocity climb closer to its past levels in the process. Of course, Britton has also walked a batter in three straight outings and has issued an unpalatable 10 free passes against 13 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings this year. To Britton’s credit, though, he has posted a 3.45 ERA and a terrific groundball rate (64.1 percent).
While the Cubs are high on Britton, Mooney wonders if they have a good enough farm system to win a bidding war for the pending free agent. Chicago has Baseball America’s 28th-ranked prospect pool, which seemingly places it behind the 8-ball, and Rosenthal notes Britton is likely to yield a “strong” return with so many championship hopefuls chasing him.
Given the competition for his services, Britton to the Cubs may be a long shot. However, if acquired, Britton would further strengthen a bullpen that ranks fifth in the majors in ERA and just added ex-Ranger Jesse Chavez via trade this week.
The Cubs’ relief corps has received great results from Morrow, Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop, Justin Wilson, Carl Edwards Jr., the unit’s top five innings leaders. Although, only one of those hurlers (Wilson) is a lefty, and fellow southpaws Brian Duensing and Randy Rosario are difficult to trust. Duensing has endured a brutal year, having logged a 7.31 ERA with more walks (23) than strikeouts (18) across 28 1/3 innings. Rosario, on the other hand, has done well preventing runs over 27 2/3 innings (1.95 ERA), but with 5.2 K/9, 4.23 BB/9, a sky-high 94.2 percent strand rate and a .238 batting average on balls in play against, he’s an obvious regression candidate. It’s likely Britton would be an upgrade over those two, and if his track record is any indication, he’d join Wilson in giving the Cubs a second formidable lefty reliever.