Bad news for struggling Baltimore, which loses an All-Star reliever and a valuable trade chip all in one blow.
Some very bad news for the Orioles as the year draws to a close: On Wednesday morning, The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reported that closer Zach Britton had ruptured his right Achilles tendon in a workout in California. The news was confirmed to reporters by Orioles general manager Dan Duquette, who noted that the lefty reliever would undergo surgery; a recovery timetable of four-to-six months is expected.
The injury is a big blow to Baltimore on multiple levels. First and foremost, it robs the O's of a closer who, despite struggling last year with injury problems, is a two-time All-Star and one of the league's best ninth-inning weapons. In 2016, Britton was borderline unhittable, posting a 0.54 ERA and striking out 74 in 67 innings to earn 47 saves in 47 chances and a fourth-place finish in that year's AL Cy Young voting. But a left forearm strain cost Britton two months of the season last year, and his numbers suffered due to that and persistent left knee soreness, as his ERA ballooned (relatively speaking) to 2.89 while his walks spiked and his strikeouts plummeted.
But for as good as Britton has been on the field, he was potentially more valuable to the Orioles as a trade chit. He was shopped heavily at last year's deadline, with MLB.com's Britt Ghiroli noting that Baltimore came close to dealing him to Houston in July, and was once again on the market this offseason as the O's, who collapsed in the second half and finished in last place in the AL East with a 75–87 mark, are looking to buff up a weak farm system. As a pending free agent, Britton was a logical piece to be moved, either in the winter or at the July 31 trade deadline.
A trade this winter is now off the table, and with a tentative timeline of four to six months before Britton is back, a deal at the deadline may be out of the picture as well, as getting him back on the mound in time to rebuild his value before the end of July will be a tall task. It's a brutal hit, too, for Britton, who was hopefully going to cash out in free agency; now having suffered a serious injury at 30 years old, he's facing a far more uncertain financial future (especially if, given the salary bump he's due in arbitration from the $11.4 million he made last year, the Orioles simply release the veteran reliever to save money).
With Britton now on the shelf, the combo of Brad Brach (himself mentioned in several trade rumors) and Mychal Givens will handle closer duties for Baltimore, says Duquette, who adds that the team will scour free agency for lefthanded relief help. The big question now, though, is whether the loss of their All-Star closer will prompt the O's to re-consider trading superstar third baseman Manny Machado. Earlier Wednesday, FanRag Sports' Jon Heyman reported that the team, which has been shopping Machado (who, like Britton, will be a free agent after the season), was unhappy with the trade offers it had received and was pulling him off the market. But with their second-best asset now lost, it's worth wondering if the O's will re-engage teams on Machado, now that 2018 looks more and more like a lost season in the Charm City.