The Curious Cases of the Relievers Who were not Traded

Again, Zach Britton found himself waiting for a phone call that never came.

Fellow left-handed reliever and fellow significant trade chip of a motivated seller, Brad Hand, is also staying put.

While the headlines Monday were tied to the top front-line starters traded, the Yankees adding Sonny Gray and the Dodgers beating the 4 p.m. eastern buzzer to land Yu Darvish, this was a reliever-heavy deadline period. This should be remembered as the trade deadline of The Reliever when more and more teams are focused on improving bullpens and attempting to build super relief corps.

And what’s interesting is that two of the best relief options available — arguably the two best options available Monday — were not moved among the high volume of relievers traded prior to the deadline.

The Yankees strengthened their bullpen earlier in the month by adding Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson. The Nationals had earlier acquired Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson, and added Twins closer Brandon Kintzler at the deadline. Also on Monday, the Dodgers added left-handed relievers Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani. The Indians added a bullpen upgrade in Joe Smith. The Cubs added Justin Wilson last week. Jeremy Jeffress returned to the Brewers Monday, and prior to the deadline the Red Sox tried to keep pace with the Yankees’ super pen by adding Addison Reed.

Take a breath. There’s more.

David Hernandez is headed to the Diamondbacks, Joaquin Benoit to the Pirates, and the Astros added Francisco Liriano, whom they plan to transition to a reliever. The one thing Liriano has consistently done in his career is dominate lefties, and it’s not crazy to think he might excel in a situational role.

Eno looked at all the relievers traded Monday. But among the notable names not included were of course Britton and Hand.

Zach Britton once again was left waiting by the phone. (Photo: Keith Allison)

One problem with Britton is he has not been vintage Britton — at least according to traditional numbers — since returning from the disabled list. In 11 innings since his return, he has allowed six runs and 13 hits. But then again, he has been vintage Britton in regard to his ground-ball rate, which remains at an elite 80 percent in July, and his velocity has been trending back in the right direction.

Against the Royals on Monday night, Britton looked like Britton. His 97 mph sinker darted under bats in a scoreless inning.

The Orioles did not have to trade Britton. He has another season of control. Perhaps he will have more value in the offseason if he can finish with two excellent months, or perhaps the Orioles can work out a waiver deal. Perhaps the Orioles were asking too much, or were simply being too stubborn in regard to their future and current positions. There is the Peter Angelos factor.

And maybe the Orioles — at least some key decision makers — still believe they can win, as Dan Duquette told the Baltimore Sun Monday.

“We’re going to take a shot at getting the most out of this season,” Duquette said. “I mean nobody’s running away with the American League East. The teams are so evenly matched if you make a move here or there and it jells, who knows? We still have some hope that we can make the playoffs.

“We like our guys and we like our team,” he added. “… You do one or two things right and you get on a roll, there’s still hope. There’s still hope. And that wild card keeps hope alive for a lot of teams. Frankly, I’m glad that we’re adding. I’d much rather be adding this time of year than subtracting.”

The Orioles have a 4.4% chance to reach the postseason according to our playoff odds.

The risk is that the Orioles are facing an inevitable rebuild in a tough AL East, and if they wait too long to tear down, there might be nothing left to tear down — whether it be players walking as free agents, losing value due to injury and/or moving closer to free agency.

As for Hand, there were reports that the Padres were asking too rich a return, and perhaps as they kept their ask high — maybe even misreading the market — other options began to go off the board, like Wilson.

If the Orioles and Padres were hoping for returns anything near what the Yankees enjoyed last deadline for Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman, they were certainly disappointed.

In this year’s deadline market, the Yankees gave up less for 2.5 years of control over Gray than they enjoyed in return for two months of Aroldis Chapman last year. The Yankees acquired a top-of-the rotation arm without giving up a top 50 overall prospect. Ditto for the Dodgers and Darvish, who was a rental.

Beyond this not being a great seller’s market, it was also a market flooded with short-term relief options.

Benoit, Hernandez, Kintzler, Liriano, Reed, Smith, and Watson — who were traded Monday — are all impending free agents. While they are not the talent that Hand is, they were undoubtedly cheaper in terms of return required.

You could make a case that Hand is a poor man’s Miller, and that he was the most valuable reliever chip available Monday. Jeff just opined he was and that the Padres were right to ask for a hefty package.

But the Padres might have waited too long in a market flooded with lesser but adequate options. Teams might have paused about giving up a significant haul for a pitcher with a short track record of dominance in addition to the volatile nature of bullpen arms.

And whether it was because of outrageous asks, stubbornness and/or a flooded market, two of the best relief options available Monday — perhaps the best two — were not moved. That was something of an upset. And while that’s not a great look for the Orioles and Padres, they’ll get another chance to move them this coming winter or next deadline.

But you can also second guess some contenders. Should they have been willing to pay more for relievers who had a chance to not just be upgrades, but to be difference makers, in a game trending more and more toward the bullpen?





A Cleveland native, FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Big Data Baseball. He also contributes to The Athletic Cleveland, and has written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Sawchik.

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sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

It’s not that surprising that the Orioles didn’t trade Britton. He’s not at the top of his game and they still think they can contend next year. I’m kind of surprised they were willing to trade anyone other than Seth Smith, since they can still try to make a run next year.

As for the Padres, I think the analysis they overplayed their Hand (ha) is correct. He’s excellent, but he’s not Andrew Miller. A version of what the Tigers landed for Wilson with maybe another FV45-50 guy involved was the best they were going to do.

Free Clay Zavada
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Free Clay Zavada

I don’t know about them making a run next year. The Yankees and Red Sox probably get better and the Orioles pitching is just terrible, I don’t see that changing much.

JimmieFoXX
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JimmieFoXX

Manny Machado to the Mets for the three gems of their farm system. It’s that time for the Mets to “Go for it!” Then the Mets sink to the bottom of the standings passing the Phillies as the Phillies rise.

50 years of history doesn’t lie. The Mets and Phillies always pass one another in the standings.

“What is past, is prologue.” – William Shakespeare

Free Clay Zavada
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Free Clay Zavada

Being from the NY area originally and having something of an affinity for the Mets…I really hope they aren’t that dumb. I’ll choose to believe they aren’t, but wouldn’t blame anyone who disagrees.

JimmieFoXX
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JimmieFoXX

I’m not accusing the Mets of being dumb, I’m saying people who don’t see how things are in the N.L. Least and specifically between the Mets and Phillies are dumb.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

Hey, I’m not saying that they’re *likely* to contend. They’re probably the worst team in the AL East next year. All I know is that they think they can contend in 2018, and if that’s the case you should hold on to Britton.

I can’t say I’d want to sell low on Britton, Machado, and the rest of the gang either.

TKDC
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TKDC

I agree they should have tried to trade him, and I assume they did try. For all of the times guys are traded for underwhelming packages and people come on websites like this to blast them for it, it seems a bit hypocritical to just assume they could have gotten a decent return for him. If they put him out there, and the options were not great, then why trade him? I’m no Padres fan, and their outlook is not great, but teams turn around bad outlooks quicker than expected fairly regularly, and of course if the Padres are bad again next year, as expected, they can make another go at trading him. I simply don’t agree that a team has to trade it’s good players for whatever they can get simply because they have a low chance of being good while that player is under team control. Baseball’s unpredictability and how quickly bad teams can turn good are two things that Monday morning quarterbacks tend to leave out of analyses.

AJ pro-Preller
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AJ pro-Preller

The Padres have a better chance of making a run next year than the Orioles do.

Tanned Tom
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Tanned Tom

Yeah, the Orioles are making a run next year… for 4th place.

Ryan21
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Ryan21

I think it’s not so much that the Orioles think they have a strong shot at the post-season next year as it is that making the post-season next year is their ONLY shot at the playoffs for a long while. The Yankees and Red Sox both look like they’re going to be very good for a very long time, and 2018 represents the last chance for the Orioles to challenge the Yankees and Red Sox with the likes of Machado and Britton still in the fold. After that, the Orioles’ odds of contending will decline even further, so I could see them deciding that they might as well keep the team together for one last push in 2018 before embarking on a long rebuild. The thought process in fact reminds me very much of KC this year.

jdbolick
Member

Exactly. Either the Orioles cross their fingers and hope for the best or they burn the whole thing to the ground, there is no reason to do anything in between. I understand why people who aren’t Orioles fans would find the latter to be preferable, yet as an Orioles fan the thought makes me queasy given that we’re only a few years removed from fourteen straight losing seasons. Baltimore’s farm system scares me and I realize that their smoke & mirrors success won’t last for much longer, but if they weren’t offered anything great for Britton then I’m on board with hoping to beat the projections yet again next season.