Rockies should strike now, acquire Zach Britton
Heading into the All-Star break, the Colorado Rockies were in a bit of a funk with starting pitching faltering and the offense struggling. After the break, things didn’t get much better on the road at the New York Mets, but a return to Coors Field to take on the San Diego Padres seemed to be just what the doctor ordered for the Rockies in the Wild Card race in the National League .
While the starting pitching did struggle throughout the three-game series, the key sign for the Rockies was the re-emergence of a booming offense, led by Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon, who helped Colorado score 36 runs in the series against the Padres, including 18 in Wednesday’s series finale.
As the offense gets going again, time is of the essence for the Rockies’ front office to strike while the iron is hot in the trade market. For the last few weeks I’ve had my eyes on Baltimore Orioles closer Zach Britton, a power lefty with a devastating sinker. Although Greg Holland is clearly entrenched as the ninth-inning guy for the Rockies, adding a pitcher of Britton’s caliber to a struggling pitching staff could have the same effect on Colorado in the playoff race as Andrew Miller had on the Cleveland Indians last summer and fall as the Tribe reached the seventh game of the World Series against the Cubs.
Miller was a dominant reliever whom manager Terry Francona used in any high-leverage situation in the game that he could, even if it wasn’t a true “save” situation. Miller often pitched multiple innings for Cleveland in the playoffs, where he had an ERA of 0.98 as the Indians rolled through the American League playoffs before falling to the Cubs.
Britton isn’t Miller by any stretch, but with his power sinker and ability to generate a ton of ground balls (66.7 percent rate this season), he should be able to perform very well at Coors Field, should the Rockies overtake the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League Wild Card standings and get a chance at the one game showdown in Denver.
When the Indians traded for Miller from the New York Yankees, Cleveland gave up minor league outfielder Clint Frazier and minor league pitchers Justus Sheffield, J.P. Feyereisen and Ben Heller. That’s a lot to give up for a reliever, but the important thing to remember in that trade for Miller was that the lights-out lefty came with two full years of control before becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2019. With Britton, the power lefty would have just one more year of arbitration left before becoming a free agent in 2019, therefore, the package the Rockies would have to give up to get Britton would have to be considerably close to the one Cleveland gave up for Miller.
Looking at the Rockies’ farm system, the deal would have to start with corner outfielder Raimel Tapia, who has shown flashes in the majors this season but just isn’t ready for a long-term role with the Rockies. Plus, with Blackmon, Gerardo Parra and David Dahl locked up for the foreseeable future, as well as Carlos Gonzales, there’s not a ton of room in the Rockies’ outfield, so Tapia would be an easy loss to deal with.
Along with Tapia, the Rockies would probably have to include young arms like Ryan Castellani and Mike Nikorak, who is currently pitching in Grand Junction.
Getting a reliever for a contending team often isn’t the “sexy” move, but Britton would be able to come in and really carve out a key role for the Rockies down the stretch. Sure, the major need for the Rockies is a veteran starting pitcher or two (Scott Feldman?), but the Orioles have made one of the best relievers in baseball available for a good price.
With a deep farm system and plenty of young assets to match up with the Orioles’ interest, the Rockies would be wise to strike now and make the big bullpen move before other big-market teams get a chance to get their hands on Britton.
Who knows, maybe the lefty could be the key pitcher to help propel the Rockies into a deep playoff run this fall.
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