Not long after the General Manager Meetings began in Orlando, Fla., reports began circulating that the Baltimore Orioles would consider trading closer Zach Britton. The first report was by FanRag Sports.
The Orioles came close to sending Britton to the Houston Astros at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, but the reported deal fell apart. Prior to the final game of the 2017 season, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said the club didn't plan on trading Britton.
It shouldn't be a surprise that the Orioles would at least consider moving Britton given the team's strong need for starting pitching. Britton could potentially land the Orioles a major-league ready starter -- and maybe more.
There is a trio of right-handed candidates who could replace Britton, who missed most of the first half of the season with a left forearm injury and whose season ended early because the Orioles were concerned about his sore left knee.
Brad Brach, who filled in when Britton was hurt, Darren O'Day and Mychal Givens could all close.
MLBTraderumors.com projects that Britton could receive $12.2 million for 2018, big money for a closer. That money could be used to try and lure a free-agent starter to Baltimore
Britton, who went 47-for-47 in save chances in 2016 and ran his American League record of consecutive converted saves to 60 this past season, is eligible for free agency a year from now.
The Orioles must tender Britton a contract by Dec. 1, and there's no chance they'll non-tender him. They don't have to trade him by then.
If other teams have concerns about Britton's elbow or knee, they can wait until spring training and make sure he's healthy or even wait to see how the Orioles start the 2018 season.
If they don't play well initially, perhaps Britton could be dealt then.
While Britton has had a strong four-year run as the team's closer, the way it began is in some ways similar to the situation he finds himself in now.
At the end of the 2013 season, Duquette said the Orioles would retain then-closer Jim Johnson, who had saved 101 games during the previous two seasons but had fallen off in the final months of 2013.
When the deadline neared for tendering contracts, Duquette decided he didn't want to pay big money for Johnson, who was also a year away from free agency. Shortly before the deadline, Johnson was sent to the Oakland Athletics for infielder Jemile Weeks and minor league catcher David Freitas.
Oakland paid Johnson $10 million, and when he was ineffective, sent him to the Detroit Tigers. Johnson has regained his form to some extent and is now with the Atlanta Braves. Weeks and Freitas didn't help the Orioles.
In May 2014, Britton ended up as Johnson's replacement at closer and has saved 135 games since.
While the Orioles got little for Johnson, if the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers or the Astros, who still could use a top-shelf closer, have an interest in Britton, it's smart for Duquette to at least listen to offers.
NOTE: Trey Mancini's third-place finish in voting for the American League Rookie of the Year award (the New York Yankees' Aaron Judge won) was the highest for an Oriole since Daniel Cabrera finished third in 2004. No Oriole has won the Rookie of the Year award since Gregg Olson in 1989.
I was a voter for the award and voted (in order) for Judge, Mancini and the Boston Red Sox's Andrew Benintendi.