The Boston Red Sox are reportedly among the teams scouting Baltimore Orioles closer Zach Britton, who recently returned from the disabled list.
Upgrading the bullpen remains one of the chief priorities for the Boston Red Sox as the trade deadline approaches. Could a division rival offer a solution?
The Red Sox already have arguably the best closer in baseball. Craig Kimbrel‘s job is safe but Britton could give Boston’s bullpen a more reliable setup option. Carson Smith has been lost for the season and Tyler Thornburg is slowly making his way back from injury. The Red Sox could use reinforcements for the bridge to Kimbrel in their absence.
The left-handed Britton also would give the Red Sox another southpaw in the bullpen. Brian Johnson is currently the only lefty reliever on the roster. He’s more of a long reliever than someone to rely on late in a tight game.
Britton is a free agent after this season. He may only be a short-term rental, although if he thrives in Boston he could offer a lower-cost replacement to Kimbrel.
Baltimore may be hesitant to help a division rival. However, a deal between these teams would hardly be unprecedented. Boston sent reliever Andrew Miller to the O’s at the 2014 trade deadline for Eduardo Rodriguez. This would be the reverse of that situation. The Red Sox are now the contenders and the O’s are looking to sell.
The New York Yankees are also expected to be in the mix for Britton. Trading for the lefty could be as much about keeping him away from their primary competition as it is improving their own roster.
Is he still an elite reliever?
Britton recently returned from Achilles surgery and still needs to prove he has returned to form before suitors will meet Baltimore’s asking price.
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Britton owns an unappealing 6.35 ERA over 5 2/3 innings this season. However, that figure is distorted by one ugly outing in which he gave up all four of the earned runs he’s allowed this year. He’s looked much better in his other five scoreless appearances. The five walks he’s issued are a concern, although three of them came in his season debut against the Red Sox.
Britton is primarily a two-pitch pitcher – sinker and curveball. His velocity on both pitches is down a few miles per hour from his peak form but should improve as he builds up his workload. He’s still inducing a strong 60% groundball percentage and hasn’t allowed a home run. His 14.3 swinging strike rate is above his career average.
There have been bumps in the road to Britton’s recovery but he’s shown flashes of his old self. His two most recent appearances came on consecutive days, clearing a hurdle his suitors needed to see him complete.
A larger sample will be needed to determine if Britton is back to being among the elite relievers in the game. His upside warrants the Red Sox monitoring his progress.