To make a trade for Baltimore Orioles closer Zach Britton, the Nationals and the Orioles would have to put aside history.
Since moving to Washington in 2005, the Nationals and the Orioles have not made a trade with each other. In fact, the last trade involving the franchise (as the Montreal Expos) and the Orioles happened in 2001 when Tim Raines was sent to Baltimore.
Raines was inducted into the Hall of Fame this weekend.
The Nationals are in need of a closer, though, and Britton is the best option on the market ahead of Monday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline. Baseball wisdom says teams avoid trading within the division and certainly not with regional rivals.
But the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox were able to swallow pride for a deal earlier in July centering around ace pitcher Jose Quintana. The Cubs got the pitcher they were looking for in Quintana and the White Sox added highly rated prospects to their farm system.
In other words, it’s 2017. Do trade barriers such as geographical distance really exist anymore? Aren’t teams smarter than this?
“A lot of it has to do with how the organizations get along,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. “And do organizations make trades with each other? I think that a lot of times, if you notice, the same teams trade with the same teams a lot of times.”
Baker is right and the Nationals certainly have their favorites. When the Nationals acquired Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson on July 13 from the Oakland Athletics, it was the 13th transition between the teams since 2007.
And there’s another factor in the Nationals-Orioles relationship that could hamper a trade — the ongoing lawsuit between the two teams involving television licensing revenue. Orioles owner Peter Angelos was the only MLB owner to vote against the then-Expos’ move to Washington.
National writers have reported the animosity between the Nationals and the Orioles. ESPN’s Buster Olney pegged the teams getting a deal done as “probably next to zero,” while The Ringer’s Michael Baumann and Ben Lindbergh discussed on a recent podcast that the teams “are apparently so pissed at each other about MASN, they won’t even pick up the phone.”
Nationals catcher Matt Wieters spent the first eight years of his career in Baltimore and said while he saw the articles about the lawsuit, the drama didn’t get brought down to the players.
Wieters does, however, know the impact Britton could have on a team, if the closer is moved. Britton has become dominant primarily with one pitch — his sinker, which he throws 92 percent of the time.
“Zach made himself one of the best closers in the game,” Wieters said. “I don’t think there’s anybody that would doubt that. He was able to master one pitch as much as you can master a pitch. … You have to give him a lot of credit for him able to do that.
“But what kind of year he’s had for them the last couple of years, you don’t see those years kind of often, especially what he was able to do last year. He probably had one of the best relief seasons you’ve ever seen.”
In 2016, Britton had a 0.54 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP in 67 innings, leading the league in saves with 47. He was so good, he finished fourth in voting for the American League CY Young despite being a reliever.
This season, Britton is trying to return to form after dealing with an arm injury that kept him out for two months. Britton has a 3.44 ERA this year and a 5.79 ERA in July in nine innings. But his past history makes him enticing. And he’s under contract until 2019.
The Nationals would be a logical landing spot for Britton, given their need for a closer. Washington could, presumably, dangle valuable prospects Victor Robles and Juan Soto.
Both would be welcome additions to an Orioles’ farm system that was ranked 25th by ESPN in January. The Orioles are 49-54 this season and are reportedly ready to sell.
So far, the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers have been the teams strongly linked to Britton, based on multiple reports.
Like Baker said, trades come down to relationships.
“Basically, people don’t change that much,” Baker said. “This generation, that generation, past generations. You know, it was a big deal when Jackie Robinson went to the (New York) Giants. Because they didn’t trade. Has it changed since then? It hasn’t changed that much.”