ORLANDO, Fla. – The Cubs executives who checked out of the Waldorf Astoria Orlando on Wednesday had to ask the Baltimore Orioles again about Zach Britton. But any standard due diligence during the general manager meetings doesn’t mean Britton will follow Aroldis Chapman and Wade Davis as the next All-Star rental closer at Wrigley Field.
Whatever window that might have been open probably closed right before the July 31 trade deadline, sources said, when the Cubs found Baltimore’s asking price to be too high, wondered if internal issues might prevent the Orioles from actually going through with a Britton deal and then pivoted to acquire their other targeted lefty reliever – Justin Wilson – from the Detroit Tigers.
To find a ninth-inning solution, the Cubs have identified options like converted starter/setup guy Brandon Morrow, who shut them down during the National League Championship Series and appeared in 14 of 15 playoff games for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Cubs are also expected to monitor Addison Reed, who closed for the White Sox earlier in his career, pitched in pennant races with the New York Mets and Boston Red Sox and will be only 29 next season.
The Cubs still want to be in the loop with Davis, in case he isn’t overwhelmed with the kind of four-year, $62 million contract the San Francisco Giants gave Mark Melancon last winter and needs to find a good landing spot when so many of the traditional large-market, big-spending teams already have established closers or are in rebuilding/cost-cutting modes.
The Cubs also realize this a deep group of free-agent relievers who might feel the supply-and-demand squeeze this offseason. Even if it takes until January – weeks after the industry returns to Florida for the winter meetings – the Cubs can round out their bullpen later with short-term deals for established relievers who aren’t necessarily part of that top tier.
No doubt, Britton is an elite talent, though a strained left forearm limited him to only 37.1 innings last season. MLB Trade Rumors projected he will make $12.2 million through the arbitration system in 2018, his last year before free agency.
The Cubs could justify giving up Gleyber Torres in the Chapman trade with the New York Yankees because they had a legitimate World Series contender and were near the end of the 108-year championship drought.
The Cubs saw Jorge Soler as a diminishing asset with limited opportunities to play at Wrigley Field and decided to move the Cuban outfielder in the Davis deal with the Kansas City Royals during last year’s winter meetings.
On all levels, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein doesn’t really feel that same sense of urgency for that kind of trade now.
Broadly speaking, Epstein said, “You definitely don’t want to make it a habit to give up five, six years of control for one year of control back.”