3:04pm: Baltimore has also avoided arbitration with righty Brad Brach, Connolly tweets. He’ll earn $5.165MM, just shy of his $5.2MM projection.
Infielder Tim Beckham ($3.35MM) and catcher Caleb Joseph ($1.25MM) also have deals in place, per Connolly (Twitter links). The former lands just over his projected $3.1MM, while the latter falls a bit shy of the $1.4MM that the MLBTR algorithm foresaw.
1:56pm: The Orioles have agreed to a one-year deal with injured closer Zach Britton, thus avoiding arbitration, Dan Connolly of BaltimoreBaseball.com reports (Twitter links). Britton will get a raise from $11.4MM to $12MM under the new contract. Britton caeme with a projected arbitration salary of $12.2MM, via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz.
It remains to be seen precisely when Britton will be able to take the field for the Orioles in 2018. After a 2o17 season that was truncated by a pair of forearm injuries, Britton saw his run of bad luck continued when he suffered a torn Achilles tendon during his offseason workouts last month. The injury required surgical repair and came with a reported recovery time of four to six months, though certainly the Orioles will hope that the rehab comes in on the short end of that fairly broad range.
Britton, who recently turned 30, was among baseball’s elite relievers from 2014-16, pairing strong stirkeout and walk rates with historically brilliant ground-ball rates. Britton’s mid-90s sinker was so devastating that he set a single-season Major League record for pitchers (min. 60 innings pitched, dating back to 2002 when batted-ball data began being tracked) with a 79.1 percent ground-ball rate in 2015, only to promptly break his own record with an unthinkable 80 percent mark in 2016.
This past season, though, Britton was limited to 37 1/3 frames by injury and didn’t look like himself when healthy. While his 2.89 ERA was better than the league average, he averaged just 7.0 K/9 against 4.3 BB/9 with a still-ridiculous 72.6 percent ground-ball rate. Those strikeout and walk rates were far and away the worst that Britton has posted since converting to a full-time reliever in 2014.
The O’s will be left hoping that Britton can rebound not only from the Achilles injury but also from the forearm woes that hampered him in 2017. If he’s able to return sometime in the first half of the season, he could build himself up to either be a trade candidate or an important piece of the bullpen should the Orioles defy current expectations and find themselves in contention next summer.
Even if he doesn’t emerge as a trade option, a healthy Britton would be a no-brainer to receive a qualifying offer, so the Orioles could still recoup draft compensation in the event that he returns to form, plays out the season in Baltimore, and then hits free agency. And, of course, the possibility remains that the two sides could talk this spring about a potential agreement that would extend his tenure with the club beyond its current end point.
O course, it’s important to recall that arbitration salaries are not fully guaranteed (unless that’s specifically agreed upon). We at MLBTR have been among those to express the view that the Orioles might be best served simply cutting Britton loose and pay him only thirty days of salary for the coming season. But as Connolly points out (Twitter links), such a decision would likely invite a grievance action since Britton injured himself while working out for the coming season after already being tendered a contract.