At 43-49, eight games out in the American League East, and 4 1/2 games out (but with seven teams ahead of them) in the AL Wild Card race, the Orioles seem like they might be a Trade Deadline "seller" for the first time in years. While reports indicate that they have no willingness to move franchise icons Manny Machado or Adam Jones, they do seem to be at least open to the potential of trading closer Zach Britton.
While that's the kind of move that would ordinarily stun a fan base used to being in playoff contention -- from 2012-16, no AL franchise won more games -- it might just be the best thing the O's could do to reload for the future. After all, their farm system has just one prospect (catcher Chance Sisco, No. 84) in the MLBPipeline Top 100. It's time to infuse some young talent, and holding onto Britton would be risky.
But more importantly, you saw the kind of return the Yankees got in separate deals for Andrew Miller and Albertin Chapman last year, right? As starters go fewer innings, and as postseason baseball becomes more about bullpens, elite relievers are commanding huge returns -- and make no mistake, Britton still falls in the "elite reliever" category. (Assuming he proves he's fully healthy after recent arm trouble, though he was touching 98 mph this weekend.)
That being the case, let's have some fun. If the Orioles did deal Britton, they'd only do so for an elite prospect package, and since it was only last summer that Miller and Chapman were dealt, we have some baseline of how top lefty relievers are valued. Who might be interested -- and what might Baltimore expect in return?
Remember, the important numbers here aren't ERA, strikeouts or saves; all three of these pitchers are studs. The important number is "years remaining," and here we luck out. Miller had 2 1/2 years of control left; Chapman just half a season. Britton splits the difference, since he's under control for the rest of this season and all of next before heading into free agency for 2019.
So let's reset what happened last year, using MLBPipeline's prospect rankings at the time of the deals. Remember, a prospect's ranking within his own organization is a lot less important than his ranking within all of MLB.
From Cleveland for Miller, the Yankees received…
OF Clint Frazier #1 (CLE) / #24 (MLB)
LHP Justus Sheffield #5 / #95
RH Ben Heller #30 / NA
RH J.P. Feyereisen (unranked)
From Chicago for Chapman, the Yankees received..
IF Gleyber Torres #1 (CHC) / #24 (MLB)
OF Billy McKinney #5 / #75
OF Rashad Crawford (unranked)
P Adam Warren
When the Yankees traded Chapman to Chicago, the deal was led by Torres, then the No. 24 prospect in the game. When they traded Miller to Cleveland, the headliner was Frazier… then the No. 24 prospect in the game. (The deals came a few days apart, and there was a midseason re-rank in between.) By the end of the season, they were No. 15 (Torres) and No. 17 (Frazier).
So that's where we start. A potential Britton deal probably starts with a Top 25 prospect at or near the top of a team's list, a secondary prospect in the back half of the Top 100, and one or two talented but long shot names like Crawford or Feyereisen. (Warren has been valuable for the Yankees this year, but with a 5.91 ERA for the Cubs, it was clear his move to Chicago wasn't working out, so it didn't represent a loss for the Cubs.)
We'll take four contenders who are possible landing spots for Britton -- sorry, Brewers and Cardinals, we see you -- and we'll choose a primary, secondary, and lottery-ticket tertiary piece. We'll do this fully knowing that every team (and fan) will value prospects differently, and that the O's may prioritize starting pitching. The only certainty here is that if fans of both sides dislike the idea, then it's probably about right.
Potential deal: P Francis Martes (No. 15), OF Derek Fisher (70) and 3B Colin Moran
Perhaps you'd rather outfielder Kyle Tucker (27) over Martes, who is appealing since he's already spent time in the Majors and impressed. Maybe instead of Fisher as the secondary piece, you'd prefer pitchers Forrest Whitley (71) or Franklin Perez (92). Mix and match as you please. The point is that the Astros are both loaded with prospects and a great fit for Britton, since they have the AL West all but wrapped up and are focusing on October.
Sure, everyone assumes they'll add a starter, and maybe they will. That said, it's easy to see them going the "2016 Cleveland" route and making one of baseball's deepest bullpens even better, especially since the only lefty, Tony Sipp, has been just okay. Moran, by the way, was the No. 6 overall pick in 2013, is blocked by Alex Bregman in Houston, and is hitting .306/.370/.545 at Triple-A, though in an admittedly hitter-friendly league.
Potential deal: P Erick Fedde (49), OF Juan Soto (91) and OF Armond Upshaw
Despite the weekend move to add relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson, Washington could still use a premier arm at the back of the bullpen to compete in October, and if the Cubs and White Sox can pair up on Jose Quintana, then we won't rule out these two Beltway rivals doing the same. Soto, just 18, is one of the youngest players above Rookie ball and is hitting .360/.427/.523 for Hagerstown, so expect his prospect ranking to rise considerably soon.
We can hear the reaction from Orioles fans: Fedde's not strong enough to anchor the deal. We want outfielder Victor Robles (5) instead. Sure thing, swap out Feddes for Robles. Just be prepared to include Brad Brach or Mychal Givens, too. There's no such thing as too many relievers in DC these days.
Potential deal: P Yadier Alvarez (39), 2B Willie Calhoun (69) and P Jordan Sheffield
It's already been reported that the Dodgers have checked in on Britton, knowing that a 1-2 of Britton and Kenley Jansen might be nearly unequaled in recent history, and the Dodgers aren't afraid to trade prospects to fill needs -- they did move pitchers Grant Holmes, Frankie Montas and Jharel Cotton to Oakland for Rich Hill and Josh Reddick.
While outfielder Alex Verdugo (50) and pitcher Walker Buehler (78) get bigger hype and could easily be swapped in here, MLBPipeline describes Alvarez as delivering "overpowering fastballs with ease, sitting at 94-97 mph for innings at a time and peaking in the triple digits," plus having three potentially plus secondary pitches. Calhoun's bat is just about ready right now, though his questionable defensive skills make him a better fit with the DH available in the AL.
Potential deal: P Brent Honeywell (22), OF/1B Jake Bauers (62) and 1B/OF Jesus Sanchez
The surprising Rays, owners of the first AL Wild Card spot, are reportedly in on "every reliever that has any slim chance or more of being available," and while that probably means something like Justin Wilson or Tony Watson, one should never put anything past the Rays. It's not hard to see them doing something like getting Britton for the stretch run and then flipping him somewhere else this offseason, is it? We've seen this strategy before, notably with the A's flipping Jeff Samardzija to the White Sox after acquiring him from the Cubs.
If the O's really wanted to shoot high, shortstop Willy Adames (16) holds great appeal as well. However, Honeywell should be big league ready as soon as this season, and Baltimore badly needs young rotation reinforcements.