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The Orioles are AL Favorites with Corbin Burnes

Corbin Burnes pitches on the road for the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Orioles added the ace they needed by trading for Corbin Burnes and now have one of the best rotations in baseball.

The Baltimore Orioles have finally made a big splash. On Thursday night, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that the O’s were close to acquiring SP Corbin Burnes from the Milwaukee Brewers. The Birds ended up sending SS Joey Ortiz, RP DL Hall, and the #34 pick in this year’s draft to the Midwest.

Just one day after the Angelos family announced they are selling the franchise, the Orioles front office finally acted like a World Series contender. Despite leading the American League in wins, the O’s had a relative weak spot in the rotation. That is no longer the case with the addition of a surefire ace. Burnes is part of an endangered species as a good starting pitcher who stays healthy. He threw 193.2 innings in 2023 and 202 the year before. He hasn’t missed any time since 2021 when he still won the Cy Young award. he has been a candidate four straight seasons and finished eighth last season.

The Orioles are obviously expecting him to still be one of the top pitchers in the league, but he is no longer the very best one like in ’21. As I noted in June when I thought Baltimore should trade for him, Burnes’ bottom line and peripherals have trended in the wrong direction the last three years. The front office can feel better now, though, because Burnes was great down the stretch. His results were still worse than ’21 and ’22, but a 25% strikeout rate and .598 OPS against are still really good. From that point midseason, Burnes lowered his ERA from 3.75 to 3.39, and his FIP dropped from 4.59 to 3.81. Regardless of the exact figure, Burnes is worth acquiring, even for just one year.

Competitive Impact

By making this trade, the Orioles just added at least three or four wins to the team. They now have a top-tier rotation with Burnes followed by SPs Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez, John Means, and Dean Kremer. That’s two Cy Young candidates, a youngster who pitched like an ace down the stretch, a former All-Star, and an overqualified fifth starter. RP Tyler Wells gets to be a long reliever while SP Cole Irvin serves as AAA depth instead of a frightful member of the Opening Day roster. More importantly, Burnes will start the most important games of the season. We all saw what happens when a team is lacking in postseason starters.

Injuries are always possible, and the O’s have been lucky in that regard recently, but the current group of five can match up with anyone. There is far less risk here than the rotations of the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, and Texas Rangers, which are filled with injury-prone pitchers. The Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves have depth to get through the season but maybe not to win it all. The Philadelphia Phillies, and Los Angelos Dodgers are the only teams with clearly better rotations. Meanwhile, the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays have better pitching staffs but flawed lineups holding them back.

Offseason trades often take a long time to develop, and the Orioles have been in the rumor mill all winter. They likely targeted Burnes long ago and might have pulled off this trade regardless of who is writing the checks. But the timing is too perfect to say the trade and the sale of the team are purely coincidental. A larger payroll might embolden them to add SP Brandon Woodruff while he rehabs and entice Burnes to sign an extension.

How the Brew Crew Think

Whether you like this trade or not for Milwaukee, it is a logical deal befitting their philosophy. The team that emphasizes pitching and defense more than any other added exactly that. The Brewers run a low payroll like the Orioles do and routinely trade players near the end of their team control, such as CP Josh Hader. To stay competitive and frugal, they added two players with six years of team control who can be on the Opening Day roster.

Hall was a first rounder in 2017 and made top prospect lists until he graduated last seasons. He has amazing stuff highlighted by a vertical fastball and a slider with tons of movement. Walks have prevented him from being a starter in the Majors as the O’s used him in relief. Hall can be a high-leverage reliever and probably should be long term given his control problems. But the Orioles viewed him as a starter in the future, and the Brewers must as well. They are great at developing pitchers and might be able to unlock something. Burnes, Woodruff, and SP Freddy Peralta all debuted in the bullpen before becoming aces, so perhaps the same thing will happen with Hall.

Ortiz was a fourth rounder in 2019 who steadily moved through the Baltimore system before a power breakout late in 2022. The home run output remained in 2023, and Ortiz had a brief debut. Drafted as a plus shortstop, his defense is still his best tool and path to staying in the Majors. Ortiz had little opportunity for playing time with the Orioles given their many other high-end infielders. But the Brewers are thin in that regard, and he could be in the lineup every day at second or third then take over short when SS Willy Adames leaves town.

Final Thoughts

The return is fair if not overwhelming. Milwaukee acquires two players they have more use for than the Orioles do. The draft pick is meaningful, but only for the Brewers. The Competitive Balance pick makes up for losing out on a compensatory pick which the O’s might now get. Baltimore will issue a qualifying offer, and assuming Burnes signs elsewhere, they will get a pick after the first round. In other words, they traded a draft pick in 2024 for roughly the same pick in 2025.

The headline here is that the Orioles acquired one of the best pitchers available. If I was a GM (one can dream), I would have given up even more for Burnes. I’m surprised they did not ask for a low-level sweetener common in blockbusters. That does not mean this is a bad deal for the Brewers, but I can understand why many people in Wisconsin are upset. Maybe they will win the NL Central with 84 wins.

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