Orioles closer Zach Britton has suffered a serious injury this offseason. Tuesday, he ruptured his Achilles tendon while working out, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. As we know, this means Britton will miss at least six months and it could run something like eight months or even the entire 2018 season.
BREAKING: Orioles closer Zach Britton ruptured his Achilles yesterday working out in California. Expected to be out at least six months.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 20, 2017
Britton, 29, was 15 of 17 in save chances with a 2.89 ERA, 1.53 WHIP and 29 strikeouts in 37 1/3 innings last season. He battled forearm issues through much of the season and it seemed to drastically affect his control. He walked 17 hitters unintentionally in his 37 1/3 innings, which was more than he unintentionally walked (15) in 67 innings in 2016. In fact, Britton was the best closer in baseball in 2016, finishing fourth in AL Cy Young voting after going 47 for 47 in saves with a 0.54 ERA and 0.84 WHIP.
The fallout here, as I see it, comes in several waves:
Orioles closer, 2018
Most immediately, the replacement at closer for the Orioles to start the season comes to mind and it'll likely be something like last year with righty Brad Brach as the top option and side-winding righty Darren O'Day as a fallback candidate. Mychal Givens wouldn't be a bad option, either. If the Orioles did have the depth to withstand a significant injury, it was in their deep, late-inning bullpen arsenal.
Britton's free agency
We've seen the market for relief pitchers explode in recent years. Big-time closers like Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen got five years and over $80 million last offseason. If Britton came out this season and put together a year that lined up with 2014-16, he was going to get a huge payday.
Instead, Britton will be coming off two injury-plagued seasons. He won't have been able to answer the questions about his forearm woes over the course of a full season, which are sometimes the harbinger of a UCL tear and Tommy John surgery.
Even if he comes back for a few months like his old self, it feels like this injury really hurts his earning potential.
The relief pitching market
We've already seen lots of the top relievers in free agency fly off the board, but Wade Davis and Greg Holland remain as the top-flight closer options and Addison Reed could be seen in this light as well. Britton's name was bandied about in trade rumors prior to this injury, so it's possible these two have a bit more leverage in talks now. It could filter down to names like Tony Watson and even Brian Duensing as well in a bit of a trickle down.
As for relievers on the trade market, they'll be more greatly impacted and the obvious name that comes to mind here is Alex Colome. If a team was looking to trade for a closer, he's the man now. The Rays have an even better trade chip than they did before.
Manny Machado market
Orioles superstar third baseman Manny Machado has been the hot man on the trade rumor mill over the course of the past week. Most recently, Wednesday morning, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reported that the Orioles have been frustrated with the offers they've been getting and might pull him off the trading block in the next few days.
Perhaps Britton's injury changes matters. If things didn't look great for the Orioles heading into 2018, now they look a touch worse without Britton for around half the season. It's entirely possible this injury helps push them more toward a massive rebuild, because ...
The Orioles are in bad shape
They were 75-87 last season and the rotation is in brutal shape. One of the early reports on the Orioles dangling Machado was that they wanted back at least two starting pitchers with several years left of team control. They failed to sign Mike Fiers earlier this offseason. That's how bad the rotation is right now.
Now, one of the easiest ways -- along with great defense, which Machado obviously helps in a big way -- to cover up a bad rotation is with an exceptional bullpen. Losing Britton dings this group.
Then you start to look forward to the future. Not only are Machado and Britton free agents after this season, but so are Brach and Adam Jones. After 2019, O'Day, Mark Trumbo and Jonathan Schoop are free agents.
As noted, the time for a rebuild is coming and it's possible this Britton injury serves as a bit of a trigger.