LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA. — If there’s an area the Orioles appear most willing to trade from, it’s their bullpen, which has long been the team’s most established strength. And with the relief market starting to develop at this week’s winter meetings, the Orioles are listening to offers on their late-inning relievers.
There might not be a team that has a better corps of late-inning arms: One of the best closers in the game in Zach Britton, a top setup man with closing experience in Brad Brach, a proven veteran submariner in Darren O’Day and a closer-in-waiting in Mychal Givens. The Orioles can afford to deal one and still consider the bullpen a strength.
“The bullpen is still a strength,” Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said Monday. “The other clubs are looking at the market, then they’re checking back in with us on some of the players in our bullpen. So there’s still a lot of interest in that group because they’ve performed well in the past. So if we have any depth on the team, it might be in that area of the club. So that’s something we can take a look at.”
On Monday, the Philadelphia Phillies signed 37-year-old reliever Pat Neshek to a two-year deal worth between $16-17 million, starting to set a free-agent market that still includes top-tier bullpen arms such as Wade Davis, Greg Holland and Jake McGee.
Still, this year’s reliever market isn’t last year’s, when Aroldis Chapman (five years, $86 million), Kenley Jansen (five years, $80 million) and Mark Melancon (four years, $62 million) netted huge contracts in free agency.
That should play to the Orioles’ favor, and while the team has often been hesitant to go through with big deals in recent years – like their 11th-hour backing out of a deal to send Britton to the Houston Astros at this year’s nonwaiver trade deadline – they can afford to have lofty demands to move one of their relievers.
That’s why the rumored Brach-for-Matt Harvey deal doesn’t have many legs, at least from the Orioles’ perspective, according to sources. Though dealing for Brach would only be a one-year rental, he is younger, cheaper and has more closing experience than Neshek, who has been used mostly as a setup arm.
As I wrote over the weekend, Brach’s market should flourish if teams see him as a value closing option. This won’t be the first time you hear his name in the offseason.
Britton will also continue to be mentioned in rumors, especially among teams in the running for Davis or Holland. Britton’s injury-plagued season means he’s projected to make $12.2 million next year, which at this point is likely less than the salary Davis would command.
Both options would offer other teams legitimate closers for 2018 at below-market cost, and the option of trying to retain those players beyond next season or dabble in a reliever market that will include Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Miller, Kelvin Herrera and Cody Allen.
The division-rival Tampa Bay Rays are reportedly looking to deal their closer, Alex Colomé, who is entering his first year of arbitration eligibility and is projected to make $5.5 million next year, which is $300,000 more than Brach’s projection, though Colomé’s added value would be tied to three more years of team control compared to Brach’s one.
O’Day is still owed $18 million over the next two seasons, which is a large sum, but Givens still has one more pre-arbitration season next year before he starts making more through the arbitration process. Givens is also a strong candidate to take over the closer role after next season, which makes him the least likely to be dealt. But he has already drawn significant interest this week, according to a source.
For an Orioles team with so many holes, in desperate need of starting pitching and balancing its lineup with more left-handed bats, their dearth of relievers – and a quickly booming bullpen market — might be the only good thing going for the club this week at the winter meetings.