Nothing has changed with Britton's status
I've joked several times this spring that Zach Britton could rattle off 15 scoreless and hitless innings in the Grapefruit League and he still probably wouldn't be in the Orioles' Opening Day rotation.
Britton, the 23-year-old who is the Orioles' top pitching prospect, has certainly tested that line of thinking by allowing just one earned run in 14 innings. That run came today in an otherwise solid five-inning effort in a 6-2 win over the New York Yankees.
The Yankees brought only two regulars (Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira), but Orioles officials have seen enough of Britton this spring to believe that he could handle himself against major league lineups. However, that will have to wait, even if it's for just a couple of weeks.
The Orioles are expected to make another round of cuts tomorrow, and manager Buck Showalter didn't exactly shoot down the suggestion that the young lefty could be among the players jettisoned to minor league camp. But for now, Britton is tentatively scheduled to pitch in one of the split-squad games Sunday.
"He’s scheduled, but something could happen in the meeting where that may change," Showalter said.
Britton has made only 12 starts at Triple-A, so the Orioles still want to see him get a little more experience under his belt. That obviously will be the reason that is given if Britton is cut tomorrow, and there is some truth to that. Britton still needs to work on his secondary pitches and getting outs quicker in the count.
But I think I'm stating the obvious in saying that Britton's demotion would be motivated largely by business reasons. At this point, the Orioles don't really care about calling Britton up early enough in 2011 that he would achieve Super 2 arbitration status and get four years of arbitration instead of the normal three. That would cost them some money, for sure, but that wouldn't prevent them from choosing him for the Opening Day roster.
What they do care about -- and this clearly is a legitimate concern -- is Britton earning a full year of major league service time and being eligible for free agency a year earlier than normal. To prevent him from getting a full year of service time, all the Orioles would have to do is keep Britton down in the minors until April 21, 20 days after the start of the baseball season.
I have been so impressed with Britton over the past five weeks. His stuff today drew raves from Teixeira and Swisher, as it isn't often you see a power left-hander who is throwing in the mid-90s with movement. I think he has a great future, and it wouldn't surprise me if he's the ace of the Orioles' staff one day.
However, it really is a no-brainer to start him in the minors. The Orioles don't need a fifth starter until April 10, and it would be absolutely foolish to start Britton with the big league club and blow a year of service time just for him to make two starts. Bring him up in late April and enjoy almost seven full seasons of him in your rotation before he is due to hit free agency. In the time being, see whether Justin Duchscherer can give you a couple of starts. Give Brad Bergesen and/or Chris TIllman a longer look. If you have to, keep stretching out Josh Rupe and have him make the two starts until you get to April 21 and can bring Britton up.
I know some fans are going to be all over the Orioles if -- or it probably makes more sense to say when -- Britton is demoted. But it is the right move, and if you don't believe me, I've talked to many baseball executives from different clubs over the past couple of weeks who acknowledged that the Orioles would be foolish to blow a year of a promising pitcher's service time just so he can be in the big leagues two weeks earlier.
Sure, it's a move motivated by the almighty dollar, but it also makes a ton of sense.
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