Well, seeing what Washington did over the weekend in prying Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson for three prospects, perhaps the cost won’t be as high. Then again, neither Doolittle nor Madson are even close to Britton’s level, and Billy Beane works under his own set of circumstances and guidelines, so it’s hard to truly gauge what it might take to get one or both of the Oriole relievers.
Word broke last week of the Dodgers’ interest in Britton:
dodgers are on way to another rout, but they want to get better. britton's a target, & jansen told me he loves it. https://t.co/ZlFuSTj9eG
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) July 16, 2017
Yeah, a Kenley Jansen-Britton back-end of the bullpen would be incredible. Britton, 29, has been one of baseball’s best relievers since he converted to the role in 2014, possessing a 1.41 ERA, 2.44 FIP, a 26.1 K% and a 19.1 K-BB%. Oh, and he has averaged 40 saves a season from 2014-16, if you’re into that kind of thing (I’m not).
Britton’s value lies in the fact he gets a ton of ground balls with his power sinker, which is a legitimate 80-grade pitch because of the velocity (96.7 MPH) and the fact he commands it well. Since FanGraphs doesn’t differentiate between 4-seam fastballs, cutters and sinkers in terms of pitch value, Britton has the second-best fastball among relievers since 2014. Who’s first? Jansen, of course. Imagine having both of those at the end of the bullpen.
Britton owns a 77 percent ground ball rate — easily the best in baseball let alone the best among relievers. Because more than three-quarters of batted balls are grounders, he gives up very few home runs (eight in 223 innings, and just one in 2016).
As good as his sinker is, his power curveball has been incredible. It’s a case of small sample size because he throws it so infrequently (about 8.5 percent), but he has allowed just eight hits on the pitch in the last 3-plus seasons. And that’s with a .381 BABIP. So, if his sinker isn’t on for whatever reason, he has a nice backup pitch in his curve. Oh, and his whiff rate is higher on his curve than his sinker.
Other than the Orioles being a poor team, why would a guy like this be available? Because of injury concerns, which have presented themselves this season. He missed six weeks with a strained forearm, and I don’t have to tell you that a strained forearm is not good and is one of the precursors to Tommy John surgery. I’m in no way saying Britton is going to need TJ, but it isn’t a 100 percent certainty. Before this season, Britton had been a durable reliever, but he was also basically a 1-inning pitcher.
Britton is arbitration-eligible for the third time after the season. After 2018, he’ll be a free agent, so he has substantial value in not being a rental.
Brach, 31, has been a relative unknown the last few seasons in baseball. He does have a career 2.94 ERA and 3.68 FIP, but he had been nothing more than a middle-relief type before last season. He tied a career-best in innings with 79 and established career-bests in ERA and FIP. He also struck out almost 30 percent of the hitters he faced last season. The most impressive part is over the last three seasons, Brach has held hitters to a sub-.200 batting average, including a .169 mark this season.
Brach took over closing duties when Britton went on the disabled list. Brach has done relatively well in high-leverage situations, as he is allowing a .194 batting average against and also has a 27.6 K% and just a 5.2 BB%. But, he has allowed four of his five home runs in high-leverage situations. Without looking, that sounds an awful lot like a Pedro Baez-type reliever. Depending on your point of view, that’s either a good or bad thing.
Brach averages 95.1 MPH on his fastball, but doesn’t rely it on as heavily as Britton does. He also has a slider (14 percent usage) and changeup (22.4 percent usage). He gets the most swinging strikes on his changeup, and he throws it almost 38 percent of the time to left-handed hitters, which isn’t surprising. His slider is the weapon of choice against righties, and he throws it 21.7 percent of the time and gets swinging strikes on it 10.4 percent of the time. He actually gets more with his fastball (16.8 percent) against righties than any other pitch.
Like Britton, he’s under team control through the end of next season, so he isn’t a rental, but he also isn’t as good as Britton. Brach has been a bit more durable than him, though.
This is going to be tricky. The Orioles are going to want a ransom for Britton, and the price will be just a bit higher if Brach is included. Expect to see a lot of the same names we’ve already seen in this series, but unlike the other two multi-player articles, I’m doing three packages here: Two for just Britton and one for both Britton and Brach. I just don’t think it makes sense to acquire just Brach, as he isn’t a difference-making reliever on this team.
This is a premium package to give up for one of the game’s best relievers. Alvarez is the big prize here, while Calhoun is the MLB-ready talent the Orioles would look for in this deal. Rhame can step into the Orioles’ bullpen at a moment’s notice.
This is a package I’m not a fan of because I’d rather keep Verdugo than move him, but if it did happen, I could live with it because it would significantly improve the Dodgers’ chances come October. Sborz is a near MLB-ready arm and Sheffield is a low-level wild card arm with premium stuff.
To Baltimore: Alvarez, Calhoun, Sheffield, Scott Barlow, Sborz
To Los Angeles: Britton, Brach
The new addition here is Barlow, who rediscovered his strikeout stuff in Double-A this year. Since his promotion to Triple-A, he hasn’t fared as well, but he’s at least a solid bullpen prospect going forward. The main pieces for the O’s here are Alvarez, Calhoun and Sheffield. Two of them need development time and Calhoun could start for them tomorrow night if need be.
Really, this trade is about getting Britton to pair with Jansen come October. We saw the Clevelands ride the combination of Cody Allen and Andrew Miller to the World Series. The Royals had an amazing trio in 2014 in Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera (and just the latter two in 2015). The Dodgers haven’t had that other stud reliever since they’ve been a consistent playoff contender, which is why we keep seeing guys like Baez in high-leverage situations in October. Pushing Baez to more of a 6th/7th-inning role would benefit him, and with Jansen and Britton, it would basically be a 7-inning game. And neither of these deals would preclude the Dodgers from making another deal, but I also wouldn’t expect it.