Welcome to trade season, where most of the next 2½ weeks will be spent sifting through speculation to find nuggets of truth. So let’s start with a Dodgers rumor floated Thursday — the club is interested in Orioles closer Zach Britton, per Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports.
Britton is one of the game’s best closers, and would form a dynamic duo with Kenley Jansen in the back end of the Dodgers bullpen. This wouldn’t be a new tactic for the Dodgers front office, who agreed to a deal with the Reds at the 2015 winter meetings for Aroldis Chapman, only to back out when news of his domestic violence incident surfaced, one for which he was suspended 30 games to start 2016.
The super bullpen concept excited Kenley Jansen, who in talking to Heyman unleashed a “Golly,” among other things:
“Man, that would be awesome,” said Kenley Jansen, the game’s best closer when informed the Dodgers had at least had a conversation with the Orioles. “You just gave me goose bumps.”
The key with most rumors is to pay attention to the wording. Heyman reports the Dodgers “have checked in to see” if Britton is available, and also notes that the closer “isn’t yet available but could become available.”
Britton is making $11.4 million this season (roughly $3.86 million remaining after July 31), and wouldn’t be a rental. He has one more year of arbitration eligibility before qualifying for free agency after 2018.
He has been one of the game’s best closers in the last few years, saving 120 games from 2014-16, with a 1.38 ERA and 2.40 FIP, with 215 strikeouts and 55 walks in 209 innings and a ridiculous 77.9-percent ground ball rate. Britton converted all 47 save opportunities in 2016 and posted a 0.54 ERA, finishing fourth in American League Cy Young voting.
This year he has pitched only 12 games, with two separate disabled list stints for a forearm strain. He did return a week before the All-Star break, and as Heyman reported was throwing 95-96 mph.
Chapman was eventually dealt in the 2015-16 offseason, then traded again at the deadline, with the Cubs sending the Yankees four prospects in the latter deal. Gleyber Torres was the prize, with the shortstop ranking as the 27th-best prospect by Baseball America, and 34th by Baseball Prospectus. Adam Warren wasn’t a prospect, but at 28 and with 289 big league innings of both starting and relieving experience under his belt was also in the deal.
That trade isn’t a perfect comp for Britton, who would presumably be around for two postseasons instead of one. But given that rubric of a top-40 prospect plus a pitcher with big league experience in multiple roles, a Dodgers trade would likely need to include one of Yadier Alvarez or Alex Verdugo, plus Ross Stripling or Brock Stewart, plus others, for starters. Feel free to mix and match those, and/or Willie Calhoun, and adjust accordingly.
Britton isn’t the only left-handed reliever on the market, with Heyman reporting the Dodgers are “believed to like” Justin Wilson of the Tigers and Brad Hand of the Padres.
The Dodgers bullpen has been a great strength for the Dodgers this season, who are allowing just 3.33 runs per game in 2017, a half-run better than any other team in baseball and one of only three MLB teams allowing under four runs per game.
The Dodgers bullpen is second in the majors in ERA (2.99), FIP (3.34) and strikeout rate (28.3%), and third in xFIP (3.70). But it doesn’t mean they won’t try to upgrade in the next 17 days.