Orioles closer Zach Britton looking to build on first year as full-time reliever

Orioles closer Zach Britton will receive a raise of nearly $2.68 million this season.

The Orioles avoided arbitration with closer Zach Britton, agreeing to terms Wednesday on a $3.2-million deal for 2015 with an additional $500,000 in performance and award bonuses.

It wasn't that long ago that Britton was just fighting for a roster spot. Entering last spring training, Britton didn’t have an established role with the club and had no remaining minor league options.

He spent much of the spring working with pitching coach Dave Wallace and bullpen coach Dom Chiti on pitching from the stretch. He began the season as a left-handed relief arm and slid into the closer role in May.

After converting 37 of 41 save opportunities in his first season as a closer, Britton received a well-deserved raise. He made just $521,000 last season, meaning he’s receiving a raise of nearly $2.68 million.

Not bad.

Still, Britton said last year’s success won’t change the way he prepares for 2015.

“I try not to treat it like that,” he said at FanFest. “I feel like you’ve got to go in with the same mindset I had last year. I think it worked out pretty good, so I’ve got to just take that same mindset, not feel like I’m entitled or have anything in the bag or anything. That’s when you maybe get off to a slow start during the season. I don’t want that to happen, I want to be ready to go in the spring, have a good spring. I think that’s just being competitive. I want to have a good spring, I don’t want to have to ease my way in. that’s kind of the mindset I’ve had going into this year.”

Britton said the way his season ended was disappointing, which gives him added motivation going into spring training. He saved two of the Orioles' three American League Division Series wins but allowed runs in two of his six postseason outings and walked five batters (while striking out five) in 4 2/3 innings.

Entering Game 3 of the ALDS with a 2-0 lead in the ninth, Britton allowed back-to-back doubles to open the inning and make it a one-run game before he issued a one-out intentional walk to put the winning run on base. But he induced a game-ending and series clinching double play. Britton also walked three of the four batters he faced in Game 1 of the ALCS in the ninth inning of a tied game, but Darren O’Day got him out of the inning with a double play.

“We wanted to go farther than we did, and personally I wanted to be a little better than I was a couple of those last outings in the postseason, but looking back, there’s some positives from each of those outings,” Britton said. “They didn’t end as great as I wanted to, not as good as the regular season, but I learned a lot…as my first year out of the bullpen, not just being the closer but being [in] the bullpen, what I need to do. I’ve talked to Dave and Dom a lot about having a better routine this year and continuing to grow in that role.”

One other note about Britton’s arbitration settlement: The sides agreed to a salary midway between their exchanged figures. It was probably wise for the Orioles to settle because had they gone to arbitration with Britton and lost, he would have made $4.2 million.

That’s a lot for a reliever in Britton’s situation. He’s a Super 2 qualifier and he’s in the first of four seasons of arbitration eligibility. That extra million may not seem like much now, but if Britton continues to pitch well in the closer role, his salary could escalate quickly, much like Jim Johnson’s did a few years ago. And we’re well aware the Orioles aren’t fond of paying a closer anything close to eight figures annually.

Tuesday’s news leaves outfielder Alejandro De Aza as the only remaining arbitration-eligible player. The sides aren’t very far apart on the figures, with De Aza filing at $5.65 million and the Orioles countering at $5 million. That’s only a difference of $650,000, so the Orioles likely won't hesitate to go to arbitration with De Aza.

One other item of note: new commissioner Rob Manfred was in Washington, D.C., yesterday and said he believes the Orioles dispute with the Nationals over television rights fees involving MASN will be resolved in “reasonably short order.”

Also, Manfred addressed future All-Star Games with CSNWashington. The Orioles missed out on the 2016 game and Washington is a leading candidate for 2017, but Manfred gave hope that both cities could host a game in the near future.

“The way that I intend to handle All-Star Games going forward is that clubs that are interested will essentially submit competitive bids,” he said. “In terms of my own thinking, I see Baltimore and Washington as distinct markets. The fact that one gets a game doesn’t mean the other one shouldn’t.

“From a league perspective, from an MLB perspective, we feel good that we have a very competitive franchise in Baltimore and an equally competitive and successful franchise in Washington,” Manfred added.

Last May, then-commissioner Bud Selig called Baltimore “a very, very viable option” to host the 2016 All-Star Game, but after a long delay the game was awarded to San Diego.

I wouldn’t start planning for an All-Star Game in Baltimore any time soon, but at least the new commissioner gives some hope that the event will return to Camden Yards for the first time since 1993.  

eencina@baltsun.com
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