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March 22, 2011

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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Posted by Jeff Zrebiec at 5:50 PM | | Comments (16)


Already, The Sun is making excuses for MacFail. That might be a record! LOL!!!!

Brummie, I've said this before and I'll say it again, you know absolutely nothing about baseball.

Keep the posts coming, all they do is confirm your ignorance.

Absolutely a no-brainer. It's not just the financial motive. It's the difference between knowing Britton will be under team control in 2017, and just hoping he's willing to be.


Good post. You are right, there is no reason not to wait and see. It's between Bergesen and Tillman for the fourth spot. if Duch ready on April 10 then the other becomes the fifth starter. Depending on how those five pitch and Duch's status will determine when Britton gets called up.

Of course. Anyone who says otherwise isn't worth your time trying to illuminate them.


Thanks for the daily updates from FL. The biggest thing that has me excited for this year isn't the hopefully upgraded lineup but Britton's development. I've watched his 2 starts on tv this spring and he really does look impressive. I agree that its wise to start him in AAA to get an extra year later on. My question is about Tillman. I haven't been able to see any of him so far. Has he figured out how to get any movement on his fastball yet? I think thats the one thing that is holding him back. Hitters square him up too easily. thanks man

Jeff Z's reply: Tillman looks a little stronger, a little more confident. But I haven't noticed a big difference in his stuff yet to be honest.

I think he should spend the bulk of the year at Norfolk, barring a real shortage of starters. He's special and can build his stamina, confidence and develop his repertoire so that when he is promoted, he will be one of the top lefties . I like Rupe, Rapada, and especially Duchscherer if he is healthy. This way we get to keep another warm body for a couple of months until the rotation shakes out.Who knows? We may come up with a sleeper in one of these.

It's sad that MLB has gotten themselves into a situation where money rules. Jim Palmer debuted in 1965 when he was 19 or 20 years old? In '66 I believe he would have been 21. Britton is 23 and cannot be in the majors because of contractual control and the dollars of free agency.

I disagree, Jeff.

Oh, I know in a perfect world you hold Britton backdue to financials, but don't you believe we, as fans, have had 13 years worth of holding back already?

I believe the Orioles have an obligation to their fans to send their best 25 players north at the end of Spring Training.

And, Britton is not your #5. He has earned a #3 just like Markakis played himself into the lineup with his big spring a few years ago.

Besides, Showalter came here to win NOW. Winning puts fans in the seats, and fans in the seats completely overwhelms any potential financial losses with Britton.

Jeff Z's reply: Sure Dennis, but I'm not talking about keeping him down for 4 months. I'm talking two weeks. Basically, my point was that pretty much every team would do exactly what the Orioles will do with Britton.

as a player I'm sure it is annoying and sucks, but as a business it makes the most sense and as a fan it does make me happy that we will have him that extra year. He will be up soon enough.

If he comes up on 4/21 does that still put him in the rookie of the year category this year or would that be next year instead?

Dennis, so what you are saying is you would rather see Britton 3 weeks earlier because "we as fans deserve it" rather than having the team do what is best for the future?

Don't you think we deserve the team doing what is in the best interest of the team for the long run. Would you rather have Britton for an extra year, or see him 3 weeks earlier.

Agree completely. He shouldn't be down long this year. Everyone uses the "he needs better secondary pitches" excuse for a longer stay in the minora. It doesn't apply as much to a lefty sinkerballer with mid 90's heat. People will have so much trouble squaring him up that even decent offspeed stuff will be tough to hit. He will continue to throw 85% fastball/sinkers...much like the Halladay and other similar pitchers. He's also more likely to avoid major injury and be a consistent innings eating 1 or 2 starter.

The diff between being on the opening day roster and possibly being called up on4/21 is probably 2 starts, At best that just 2 more wins. If the team gets an extra full year of service in the future he looks like a 20game winner by that time. I'll take my chances on the future.

Financial Decision?

Isn't it a "control" decision?

Who's trading 2 starts for 32? I have pennies for their quarters all day.

But I guess the real question isn't IF he's going's when's he coming up. Is it a forgone conclusion that he's back on April 21st? Wasn't Wieters suspected of coming up for Super 2, but injury/struggled in AAA pushed him out of Super Two, or am I mis-remembering.

Jeff Z's reply: No, not foregone conclusion by any means. It depends on a lot of factors, including how the rotation is performing over the first three weeks, injuries, Duchscherer's status, etc. The Super 2 arbitration really doesn't play here with Britton. The Orioles are more than prepared to call him up early enough where he'd get that Super 2 status. It's that extra year of service time they don't want to lose, and they can preserve by calling him up April 21 for later.

And if we leave the lights off for night games that could save a few dollars too...

Yes, you could leave the lights off for night games 2 save some money but that won't get you an extra year's service.

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About the bloggers
A Baltimore native, Dan Connolly has been covering sports for 14 years, and baseball and the Orioles for 10 seasons, including the past six with The Sun. His first year covering baseball on a daily basis was Cal Ripken Jr.'s final season as a player. It's believed that is just a coincidence.

Steve Gould is an assistant sports editor for The Sun, overseeing Orioles coverage. The Columbia native joined The Sun as a sports copy editor in 2006 after graduating from the University of Maryland.

Peter Schmuck has been covering baseball for a lot longer than Steve Gould has been on this earth. He is now a general sports columnist, but has been a beat writer covering three major league teams (the Dodgers, Angels and Orioles) and also spent a decade as the Sun's national baseball writer. If you want more of his insight on the Orioles and other sports issues, check out his personal blog -- The Schmuck Stops Here.

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