BALTIMORE — When Zach Britton walked out of the bullpen toward the dugout, when a rain delay began around the top of the sixth inning, it was the last walk he would make out of the Orioles’ bullpen.
By that point the reports were out fast and furious — Britton was traded to the Yankees for three prospects. The Yankees wanted to both bolster their bullpen and starting rotation and they took the best, or second-best, bullpen piece available in Britton.
About a dozen scouts, many from teams that were in the Britton hunt, gathered at Camden Yards. Dave Dombrowski had discussed Britton with Orioles general manager Dan Duquette, who was Dombrowski’s assistant GM when the two worked together in Montreal. But even a longtime friendship was not enough to get Britton to Boston.
The prospects the Red Sox were offering simply didn’t add up to what the Yankees were able to put together. The Yankees gave up Dillon Tate, a 24-year-old righthander who was pitching at Double A Trenton, where he was 5-2 with a 3.38 ERA in 15 starts.
Tate was the Texas Rangers’ first-round pick (fourth overall) out of UC Santa Barbara in the June 2015 draft. He came to the Yankees in the 2016 Carlos Beltran deal.
The Orioles are receiving two other minor leaguers in the deal — righthanded Triple A reliever Cody Carroll and Triple A lefthander Josh Rogers.
The Yankees add Britton to a bullpen that already includes Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, and David Robertson.
Britton has come close to his peak form in recent weeks after returning from an Achilles’ injury. He has a 3.45 ERA over 16 appearances (15⅔ innings) for Baltimore. He had a 2.89 ERA last season and was on the verge of being traded to Houston before a deal fell through. The Astros also were in on Britton this time around, as were the Red Sox, Braves, Phillies, Brewers, and Nationals.
Britton saved 47 games and had a 0.54 ERA in 2016, but that was the year manager Buck Showalter left him out of a wild-card playoff game that the Toronto Blue Jays won to advance. The Orioles never won after that.
Why did the Yankees tab Britton?
There’s some question about Chapman’s balky knee. The Yankees understand the importance of the bullpen and want to make sure that part of their team is covered. The Yankees still have more than enough talent to acquire a starting pitcher.
They still haven’t given up a top prospect and could be saving lefty Justus Sheffield or third baseman Miguel Andujar for a top-line starter such as Chris Archer or perhaps Baltimore’s Kevin Gausman.
The Yankees already had the best bullpen in terms of ERA (.2.75) and batting average against (.199). Britton should make things airtight for the Yankees.
The Orioles received five minor leaguers in their recently completed deal with the Dodgers for Manny Machado. The Orioles could still deal reliever Brad Brach or Mychal Givens. They also could deal second baseman Jonathan Schoop.
And the Red Sox?
It was never thought the Red Sox had enough to get Britton, but they did make their attempt.
Next on their list could be Texas lefty Jake Diekman. The Cubs also are going to scout Diekman.
The Red Sox also have been scouting the Twins, who have lefty Zach Duke. The Twins also have righty Fernando Rodney, who played for Dombrowski in Detroit.
The Red Sox also reportedly have been watching Padres righties Kirby Yates and Craig Stammen as well as Miami righty Kyle Barraclough.
There are several relievers available on the market, so the Red Sox shouldn’t have a problem getting someone who can shore up their seventh- or eighth-inning relief corps, though it won’t be anyone as significant as Britton.
Britton was hoping to go to either New York or Boston. He preferred to stay in the American League East because of his familiarity with the division. Britton also was hoping he’d like where he went enough to re-sign as a free agent.
The Yankees may let Britton depart after the season because they do have a commitment to Chapman and Britton likely will want a lucrative deal, but likely not of the magnitude of Chapman’s five-year, $86 million deal.
The Red Sox have had a strong bullpen throughout the season, but cracks have shown recently with Joe Kelly, who is nowhere near as effective as he was in the first half of the season (⅔ of an inning, three runs allowed in Tuesday night’s 7-6 loss to the Orioles).
The Red Sox, like the Yankees, may also have to venture into the starting pitcher market. Drew Pomeranz was not effective in his return to the active roster Tuesday night (four runs in 4⅔ innings). Again, what the Red Sox have to give up in a deal also could become a factor.
The Red Sox likely would prefer a righthander. Detroit’s Mike Fiers and Miami’s Dan Straily are possibilities.