Strangely enough, the projected playing time that will be lost by Orioles closer Zach Britton while he recovers from Achilles tendon surgery lines up closely with the time he lost to a forearm strain during the first half of the 2017 season.
So, if you want to take a glass-half-full approach toward this latest injury, you could take comfort in the fact that the Orioles bullpen held together pretty well during that period.
It was a different routine, of course. Britton missed time in spring training and came back to pitch a handful of times before the soreness forced him out of action until July, but he finished the season with 38 appearances and 15 saves in 17 opportunities. That’s about what he’ll have time to do this coming season if all goes well.
None of that, however, changes the fact that this is a huge loss for the Orioles on a number of levels. He is, after all, one of the premier closers in the major leagues and there’s no way of knowing just how well he’ll come back after a season and a half of intermittent availability.
He also was considered a possible major trade chip when the Orioles headed to the winter meetings earlier this month, though almost all of the focus there was on Manny Machado’s availability.
Britton’s expected healthy return this spring also kept the team’s trade options open with setup man Brad Brach, who no longer appears to be expendable.
If you care about the payroll, the Orioles are still going to be headed for salary arbitration with Britton, who was projected to get about $12 million for the 2018 season. The team could try to make a deal with him to extend him through 2019 at a reduced annual salary so that he has a chance to pitch a full, healthy season before he heads into the free-agent market. But that seems unlikely when you match the fiscally conservative Orioles front office with aggressive agent Scott Boras.
Easy to say now that the Orioles should’ve dealt Britton at the July 31 trade deadline, but the timing wasn’t right to get full value and no one could’ve predicted that this would happen.
If there is good news here, it is that Britton injured the Achilles tendon in his landing leg instead of his push-off leg, but it sounds like the projected recovery time still is going to be six months and he’ll presumably need several weeks to get in pitching shape.