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Is it time for Birds fans to say so long to Britton?


For a number of reasons, the little ditty that Carol Burnett used to sing each Saturday night has occupied a place in my head recently.

The song, “I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together,” marked the end of her show and for those of you under the age of 40, this would be a good time to check out Carol Burnett on YouTube.

At any rate, the song has been on my mind, in a baseball context, because there’s a decent chance that an important member of the Orioles nucleus may not be in Baltimore by this time next week.

Zach Britton came up through the Orioles organization, breaking through to the majors in 2011 as a starter, with a record over two seasons that was just above .500.

But Britton found his niche when he converted to closer in 2014. As typically the last pitcher in a game, Britton is the team’s hammer, the guy who nails the contest shut for the Birds.

And for the last year or more, Britton has nailed things down better than anyone else in baseball. Britton set an American League record in Sunday’s 9-7 win over Houston, successfully converting his 55th consecutive save.

Britton was a perfect 47-for-47 last year and was a major reason the Orioles advanced to the postseason.

Indeed, there are still many fans who believe that manager Buck Showalter screwed up by not bringing Britton into the wild card game against Toronto, a game the Birds lost.

Britton has been hurt with a strained forearm for most of this season, but has returned this month and has appeared – so far – to pick right up where he left off.  

So, why, you ask, wouldn’t Britton still be in Baltimore next week?

Next Monday marks what is called the non-waiver trading deadline in baseball. Until then, teams can trade players without complications.

But after Monday, if two teams want to trade players, they have to wait to see if other teams put in a claim on anyone in the proposed deal.

So, if the Orioles wanted to make a trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, any of their rivals could stop the deal by filing a claim on any player in the trade.

Typically, teams that have a valued player on their roster but consider themselves out of the pennant race put those players on the open market for other teams that have a need that the player might fill.

And that’s where Zach Britton comes in. A closer of his skill is in great demand and a team that wants him could return a substantial bounty of young talented and cheap players that could stock a roster for years to come.

But trading Britton might send a signal to Orioles fans that the team’s management does not think the Birds can reach the playoffs this year.   

That’s not a message that most teams want their fans to pick up, especially not here in Baltimore, where the last five years of winning followed a long string of losing.

So, if you see Zach Britton tugging his ear before next Monday, you’ll know we’ve reached the time we have to say so long.

And that’s how I see it for this week. 

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.