Cubs Trade Rumors: Interest in Zach Britton ‘Has Picked Up Steam,’ O’s ‘Could Move Quickly’

With the Manny Machado trade all buttoned up, the Orioles may look to move quickly on a Zach Britton deal. The closer took a while to shake off the rust after missing nearly a year with a torn Achilles, but he has settled into a groove and is rebuilding his value. Not only that, but the Orioles are likely motivated by last year’s debacle in which they backed out of a deal with the Astros only to see Britton suffer that injury.

MLB.com’s Brittany Ghiroli tweeted Tuesday evening that the Orioles might be in the mood to move and that “Interest in [Britton] has picked up.” Part of that is no doubt from the Machado trade breaking the dam, so to speak, but the mechanics of that trade could be playing a role as well.

While initial reports dating back to last winter had the Cubs and Orioles talking about a deal that would include multiple members of the MLB roster, namely Mike Montgomery, Addison Russell, and/or Albert Almora Jr., that was dialed back as the season began. After all, Machado’s value decreased with each game he wouldn’t be playing for his new team.

And while we know right now only that the Dodgers are parting with top outfield prospect Yusniel Diaz, it’s been reported that no major leaguers are going with him. Also unknown is whether and how much money the Orioles with send to LA to alleviate the Dodgers’ fear of surpassing the luxury tax threshold.

What this could all mean is that teams saw the cost for Machado and probably got more excited about how little it might take to pry Britton loose. For a team like the Cubs that doesn’t boast much top-end talent in the minors, that could factor in the pursuit. Then again, the Cubs have been on Britton since at least last July and have remained in talks about the reliever since, so it’s not as though hope for a reduced cost got them into the mix.

And Bruce Levine reportedĀ this past weekend that there were seven other contenders talking to the O’s about Britton, so it’s been a pretty crowded house all along. What the Machado deal does, then, is accelerate the pace of those talks while perhaps setting the bar for what those teams will be willing to offer.

So is this really someone the Cubs would pursue in that case, particularly with the back end of the bullpen in the very capable hands of Brandon Morrow and Carl Edwards Jr.? Well, they’d also be very happy to put some of those late innings in Brad Hand’s hands, but the Padres are likely to be asking for more than the Cubs are willing or able to part with, even for an elite reliever.

In Britton, the Cubs would once again have that short-term back-end guy who they could ride like hell through the regular season and playoffs. He’d provide highly effective insulation for Morrow and Edwards, neither of whom Joe Maddon is going to want to lean on too hard down the stretch. And come the postseason, he’d allow the Cubs to either dip into the ‘pen that much earlier in close games or to be comfortable splitting up 9th inning duties should the situation call for it.

We saw what happened in the NLCS last season when Cubs relievers were just gassed out. The same was true for the Dodgers in the World Series, especially with Morrow faltering after pitching in all seven games. You can never have too many stud relief pitchers.

Britton is only owed about $5.15 million through the rest of the season, after which he’s a free agent, so there’s very little obligation there either way. Concerns about his injury history and the short duration of his stay with a new team could make him very affordable, or could at least temper the cost that’s gone up as he’s pitched better.

And while the closer’s sinker is staying low, its velocity has risen steadily since he came back on June 12. That’s pretty important considering he throws that pitch over 91 percent of the time. Though he was sitting 93-94 mph through his first 10 appearances, the last five have seen him at 95-96 with good run. That’s kept his grounder rate well up over 60 percent, which would play well in front of the Cubs’ defense.

Even if the Orioles don’t turn around and move Britton in the immediate wake of the Machado trade, they’ve got less than two weeks to make something happen. And again, they know all too well what can happen if you drag your feet on a deal.

In the end, I think the Cubs will be in this to the end but that they’ll miss out to a team that’s just a tad more desperate.

***Update***

This is more of a reinforcement than an update, but the Machado deal took a little longer than expected to come together. Now that it has, the Orioles can move on to other moves, like trading Zach Britton. Baltimore GM Dan Duquette obviously didn’t mention Britton by name, but did explain that the Machado trade was the “first step in a multi-dimensional strategy.”

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