BALTIMORE -- The bullpen, the Orioles' strength in recent years, will have to absorb the big loss of closer Zach Britton. Britton is expected to be out for at least the first few months of the season due to a ruptured right Achilles tendon, which creates a ripple effect, moving Brad Brach to closer and Mychal Givens to setup man.
Fortunately for the duo, it's not foreign territory, as they both assumed those roles at various times last season when Britton was on the disabled list.
The O's 'pen, tasked with picking up a significant number of innings for the rotation in 2017, could still use some help. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette would like another lefty option, particularly since Donnie Hart struggled last year and will enter this spring fighting for a job.
BULLPEN IF SEASON STARTED TODAY
Brad Brach, RHP
Mychal Givens, RHP
Richard Bleier LHP
Darren O'Day RHP
Donnie Hart, LHP
Mike Wright, RHP
Brach, Givens, O'Day and Bleier should be locks. Bleier was a pleasant surprise last season, and Brach-Givens is a solid 1-2 punch at the end of the game. O'Day also had a nice bounceback campaign after injuries limited him to 34 games in 2016. The O's should be able to get by without Britton to start the season and become an even deeper bullpen when he returns. Not many teams have a luxury of losing an All-Star closer and still boast a good 'pen.
The other three spots. Some of this will depend on what happens in the rotation, as certain guys (such as Wright, for example) could go to the bullpen if they don't win a rotation spot. Hart will also have to prove he can hold his own in the Majors.
Stefan Crichton, Alec Asher, Miguel Castro, David Hess, Josh Edgin (a lefty the O's signed to a Minor League deal in November) could all factor in. So could pitching prospects such as Tanner Scott or Hunter Harvey later in the year. Once again, the Orioles will prioritize flexibility so they'll be able to make roster moves as needed without the potential of losing guys on the waiver wire.
WHAT MIGHT CHANGE
Like the rotation, there's much work to be done here in the weeks before Spring Training. Expect the O's to sign more relievers, including some non-roster guys who could factor in. The competition for the second lefty could be interesting if they do indeed add a few more southpaws. And of course, there is no telling how long Baltimore will be without Britton this season.