Corbin Burnes: Did the Orioles just pull off the trade of the decade?

When the Milwaukee Brewers signed elite slugger Rhys Hoskins to a two-year, $34 million deal, it appeared that they were extending their window of contention for yet another year.

Having won three NL Central titles in six years, the Brewers are one of the game’s underappreciated “Davids” in a Major League stacked with Goliaths.

Oakland (post-Moneyball, pre-the last two chaotic seasons) and Tampa Bay receive plaudits for their wheeling and dealing to bring success to a small market team, but it is the Brewers who are operating in MLB’s smallest market.

The departure of manager Craig Counsell to the division rivals Cubs in November hurt. Counsell was the franchise’s winningest (I love that word) manager, so Pat Murphy has big boots to fill.

The Brewers also decided to non-tender, two-time All-Star pitcher Brandon Woodruff after he underwent shoulder surgery, which is likely to keep him out of the 2024 season.

Given these two blows, and with the Cubs, Reds, and Cardinals all looking to build on their 2023 campaigns, a year or two of consolidation by the Brewers was entirely understandable, which made the Hoskins signing even more surprising.

Side note: Did they confide in the first baseman that they intended to shop Corbin Burnes three weeks before Milwaukee’s first Spring Training game, or was he led to believe that the Brewers were serious contenders this year?

The trade

Brewers get LHP DL Hall, INF Joey Ortiz, plus 34th draft pick

Orioles get RHP Corbin Burnes

The fallout

Having lost Brandon Woodruff (injured, then non-tendered) and now Burnes, the Brewers rotation has gone from one of the very best to one that is relying heavily on breakouts/comebacks. It is possible that one or two of DL Hall, Jake Junis, Joe Ross or Aaron Ashby will become rotation studs, but it feels unlikely.

The Brewers have slipped from 2023 division winners to “fighting for fourth place” with just the Pittsburgh Pirates below.

Moving to Milwaukee are DL Hall and Joey Ortiz, and a 2024 draft pick. Hall is a former minor-league starter who has an elite Southpaw fastball and bags of untapped potential but didn’t make the grade for the Orioles despite Baltimore’s continual rotation woes.

Transitioning to the bullpen in 2023, the left-hander looked more comfortable in relief with 10.7 SO/9 and just seven earned runs in 18 appearances. The Brewers claim they want to try Hall as a starter again, but with closer Devin Williams being shopped, you could easily see Hall as the next incarnation of former Brewers lefty phenom Josh Hader. Given Milwaukee’s recent success with pitchers, you wouldn’t bet against Hall enjoying a career year in 2024, regardless of his role.

Obviously, the glove-first Ortiz is better than his .446 OPS in his 15-game major league cup of coffee at the end of last season, but he is not as good as his .321 AVG in the minors last year. His chances of making the Orioles stacked infield in 2024 were limited, so this was an easy trade for Baltimore.

The 25-year-old will slot into the Brewers infield – probably at third base – and gives Milwaukee a perfect replacement at shortstop, should they trade away Willy Adames, who is entering his final season of club control.

The trade also netted the Brewers a 34th pick and extra draft bonus pool money, but this is pretty much equatable to the compensation pick they would have got had Burnes stayed in Milwaukee all season.

Conclusion

After the fiasco of the Brewers humiliating Burnes in the 2023 arbitration meeting for a $740K saving, the former Cy Young Award Winner’s long-term future in Milwaukee was never an option, so a trade seemed inevitable.

However, only the most hard-nosed, financially-tunnel-visioned could argue against the return feeling very light. No Coby Mayo, no Colton Cowser, no Heston Kjerstad, no Connor Norby.

There is no argument that Ortiz and Hall could become significant major league contributors, but other contending teams must be kicking themselves at not being able to beat Baltimore’s package.

Burnes would be the number one pitcher in every rotation, except maybe the Braves or Yankees, and there are only a limited number of times a Top-5 starting pitcher becomes available without the baggage of a multi-year commitment. 

However, what the Orioles offered was major-league-ready talent, and that was what the Brewers needed to keep them there or thereabouts in the weak NL Central.

Verdict

Baltimore Orioles: A+

They added the best starting pitcher available without harming the strength of their current roster or significantly weakening their farm system. 

Milwaukee Brewers: B-

A risky return for an inevitable trade. It is a gut-punch for Brewers’ fans; the team is far worse without Burnes. However, getting six years of control of two MLB-ready players (and saving $15 million in payroll) is probably shrewd business by Milwaukee.

However, flags fly forever… although Milwaukee wouldn’t know that.

Article by @GavTramps. Want to share your baseball opinions in 2024 with a Bat Flips & Nerds audience of 10,000+? Click on the “Write for us” link above.

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