Yesterday, a league scout suggested to John Perrotto of FanRag Sports that potential Philadelphia Phillies target Manny Machado, who is eligible to become a free-agent after the 2018 season, could land the first $400 million contract in the history of the league. It sounds as though he may not be the only current Baltimore Orioles star that the Phillies are interested in that offseason.
According to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, there are whispers that the Phillies could potentially be a fit for closer Zach Britton when he becomes a free-agent:
"Have heard speculation Philly could be a landing spot for Zach Britton as a free agent in two years. Several former Orioles execs, including the folks who drafted him, are in the Phils’ front office now."
It's important to point out that this is not a concrete report, but the doesn't make it valueless. When one of the most connected reporters in the industry hears speculation, it's usually coming from people who know the landscape pretty well. Often, their speculation will turn out to have at least some level of truth to it.
Britton, 29, finished fourth in American League Cy Young voting a season ago, when he converted all 47 of his attempted saves, while posting a 0.54 ERA, a 1.94 FIP and an 0.84 WHIP. He also made his second consecutive appearance in the All-Star Game. Over the course of the last three seasons, Britton has converted 120 regular season saves in 128 attempts.
Between now and 2018, a lot can change. Britton and the club have mutual interest in a long-term deal, according to Britton, so it's possible they eventually reach one. That said, the aforementioned Machado and Adam Jones, both of whom are franchise icons, can become free-agents after the 2018 season and much of the team is built to win within the two years that the duo remain under contract. So whether they allow him to walk because they are making an attempt to retain Machado or Jones, or simply because they think their window has closed, it's a very realistic possibility that Britton isn't with the team past 2018. The possibility of trading him between now and then does also exist.
For the Phillies, it's unclear if closer will be a hole at that time. Hector Neris and Edubray Ramos both could emerge as long-term closers, but that could also lead the team to cashing in on their trade value before they return to contention. Vince Velasquez and highly ranked prospect Franklyn Kilome, both of whom are currently starting pitchers, could potentially transition into closers if things don't work out starting because they have good enough stuff to potentially thrive at the back-end of a bullpen. That scenario is less than likely, however.
The guess here is that if the Phillies make a play for Bryce Harper or Machado in 2018, they probably won't choose to allocate another large chunk of money to a luxury position like closer. That money would likely instead be put into the starting rotation. If the Phillies lay a bit lower than some expect them to after 2018, which would mean making multiple "B" or "C" list signings instead of splurging on one of the bigger names, then perhaps making a run at Britton would be more realistic.