Zach Britton Traded to Yankees; Orioles to Receive Multiple Prospects

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistJuly 25, 2018

Baltimore Orioles reliever Zach Britton follows through on a pitch to the Toronto Blue Jays during the ninth inning of a baseball game in Baltimore, Wednesday, April 5, 2017. Baltimore won 3-1. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

With the Baltimore Orioles needing to make changes for the future as they endure a disastrous 2018 season, reliever Zach Britton was traded to the New York Yankees, the Orioles announced.

Jon Heyman of Fancred.com first reported the two teams agreed to a deal. He added that Double-A right-hander Dillon Tate is one of the pieces likely headed to Baltimore in return.

Per Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the Orioles' return will also likely include Triple-A left-hander Josh Rogers and Triple-A reliever Cody Carroll. Sherman added that while all deals aren't done until the physicals are reviewed, the trade has been agreed upon.

The Orioles already signaled they were looking ahead to 2019 and beyond when they traded Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 18 for a package of five prospects.

Britton didn't make his 2018 debut until June 12 after rupturing his Achilles in December. The southpaw is still rounding back into shape with a 3.45 ERA, 13 strikeouts and 10 walks in 15.2 innings.

Last season was a struggle for Britton because of injuries. He had two separate stints on the disabled list because of a strained left forearm, including a two-month spell from an appearance on May 4 to his return on July 5.

Britton was one of the best relievers in Major League Baseball in 2016. He finished fourth in American League Cy Young voting after leading the league with 47 saves and posting a 0.54 ERA with 74 strikeouts and 38 hits allowed in 67 innings.

The big key for Britton's success two years ago was his emphasized use of the cutter, as noted by ESPN's Jayson Stark in March.

"Britton went from featuring the sinker about 67 percent of the time in 2013 to more than 90 percent in each of the past three seasons," Stark wrote. "The results were mind-blowing. He allowed just 32 balls in the air all of the past season. Even the hitters don't understand how that can happen."

Britton relied on the pitch even more in 2017, throwing it a career-high 94.7 percent of the time, per FanGraphs. He was still effective but not as dominant, with a 2.89 ERA in 37.1 innings. His strikeouts per nine innings of 7.0 was his lowest total since 2013 (4.1).

The Orioles likely knew there was a chance they would part ways with Britton, who is going to be a free agent after this season. They sit in last place in the American League East, so having a reliever who has battled injuries for two years in a lame duck year doesn't do anything to help them now or in the future.

Tate is the key piece in the deal from Baltimore's side. He was a first-round pick by the Texas Rangers in 2015 and has posted a 3.38 ERA in 15 starts this season. MLB.com ranked him as New York's ninth-best prospect in 2018, noting he could end up in the bullpen because his excellent stuff doesn't miss as many bats as it should.

Despite the injury risk, the Yankees are betting on him being able to turn things around after struggling to stay on the field last season.

The Yankees didn't necessarily need to upgrade their bullpen. Their current group of relievers ranks first in MLB with a 2.75 ERA, 448 strikeouts and .199 batting average against.

Starting pitching seemed like a better focus for New York, but with a soft market lacking impact in that role, being able to shorten games with another power arm out of the bullpen gives manager Aaron Boone a lot of options to pick from.

Britton adds a left-handed presence in the back of New York's bullpen, along with closer Aroldis Chapman. The rest of the primary relievers are all right-handers like David Robertson, Chad Green, Dellin Betances and Adam Warren.

The Yankees' addition of Britton allows Boone to play matchups however he wants as his team continues its march toward the postseason.