MLB Trade Grades: Evaluating Orioles-Brewers Corbin Burnes Trade
Written by Andy McCullough, Stephen J. Nesbitt, Will Sammon, and Eno Sarris
Baltimore Orioles get: Corbin Burns, RHP
The Milwaukee Brewers get: DL Hall, LHP; Joey Ortiz, INF; 2024 Competitive Balance Tour (No. 34 overall)
Andy McCullough: There was consternation earlier this winter among Orioles fans about the team’s lack of aggressiveness in the stadium market. All the elements were in place for the franchise in 2023 — a 101-win team, a young, vibrant core of quality players, and a rebuilt relationship with its fanbase. All the club needed was some help in the starting rotation, preferably in the form of a No. 1 starter. The organization had the surplus farm system to accomplish that. In a mailbag I wrote last month, I answered a question from a Baltimore fan wondering why general manager Mike Elias took so long to address the vacancy.
“I’m not necessarily a fan of aggression for aggression’s sake,” she wrote. “If you get a good player on November 15 or January 15, it doesn’t really make a difference.”
The same principle applies on February 1st. Elias is credited with giving up the potential capital required to make such a high-profile addition.
This is where Corbin Burns ranks among qualified pitchers since 2020:
- 2nd in wins above replacement, according to FanGraphs (17.9)
- 5th in ERA (2.86)
- 3rd in FIP (2.84)
- Fifth in roles (622 1/3)
- Seventh in strikeout rate (11.06 per nine innings)
He is the complete package in terms of a modern pitcher. For a team like the Orioles, who will likely treat Burns as a tenant, a slight decline in his pitching metrics in 2023 is less concerning than it might be for a team interested in a long-term commitment, which Burns will seek in free agency after this season. He provides a start on the front line for a rotation that already features promising arms like Kyle Bradish and Grayson Rodriguez, with John Means also expected to play a major role in 2024.
The centerpiece of Milwaukee’s return package is DL Hall, a former first-round pick who made his debut in the backfield for Baltimore last season. The Brewers believe Hall can develop into a quality starter — a belief shared by Elias, for what it’s worth — and are bullish on outfielder Joey Ortiz, who has been largely blocked out of Baltimore’s outfield. The 34th pick in this year’s draft is a great addition.
This trade is unlikely to be popular in Milwaukee. Depending on your point of view, it indicates either short-term capitulation – where a division winner trades their best player even though the division is still quite winnable – or the cost of doing business for a club committed to that style of team. building. The Brewers didn’t punt on 2024; They signed Rhys Hoskins for a reason. However, the team knew they would not sign Burns to a long-term deal. They chose to maximize his value rather than just take draft pick compensation next summer. Knowing how Milwaukee tends to improve their shooters, it wouldn’t shock me if Hall emerges as an All-Star in 2024.
However, it’s always unfortunate when teams give up on elite players in this way. Burns has emerged as a star in Milwaukee, anchoring the club with frequent postseason appearances alongside Brandon Woodruff in recent years. Woodruff’s shoulder injury last season ended his tenure in Milwaukee. That doesn’t mean the Brewers won’t be competitive this season. They may still be the favorites in the National League Central. With Woodruff gone, Craig Counsell remaining in Chicago, and now with Burns heading to Charm City, the Milwaukee era is over.
Beer grade: B
Oriole grade: a
Stephen J. Nesbitt: In one fell swoop, by landing the No. 1 pitcher on the trade market, the Orioles took their rotation from the middle of the pack to something approaching powerhouse. The Orioles were rewarded for their long rebuilding team with a lineup full of young talent — and more elite prospects on the way — but the missing piece of their puzzle was an ace. Burns is an ace at everything. Don’t take it from me. Take it from industry experts who voted him last spring as the equal of Gerrit Cole and one of the top three players in the sport.
“My brain,” one scout said at the time. “Solid. Very good. He’s got everything.”
He already does that. Burns didn’t become a regular starter in the Brewers’ rotation until 2020, then pitched to a 2.86 ERA across the next four seasons — winning the Cy Young Award in 2021 and pitching sixth, seventh and eighth the other years. That the Orioles were able to offer Burns a group of players that left their core intact is a testament to the strength of the franchise’s farm system. Hall is a former first baseman who moved to the bullpen due to leadership issues, though the Brewers will likely give him another shot at starting. Ortiz is a top-100 prospect, but the Orioles already have a projected 2024 infield that includes Gunnar Henderson (22), Jackson Holiday (20) and Jordan Westberg (25), with Connor Norby (23) second in Triple A.
All of this means that the Orioles became indisputably stronger with this trade and did not part with their elite prospects. They’ll pay Burns’ $15.6 million salary instead, putting some of that back New property money to use. This is a win-win. Meanwhile, the Brewers save money, lose their ace, and add two MLB-ready 25-year-old players with real upside. That’s nothing, but it’s not really a win.
Beer grade: B-
Oriole grade: a
Will Sammon: Burns is as committed to his job as any athlete I’ve been around. To recover from a terrible 2019, he changed everything about his daily and weekly rituals while working with a mental strength coach. Since then, his annual production on the mound has become as routine as making the bed in the morning.
The Orioles can count on Burns to pitch 200 innings and finish in the top 10 for the Cy Young Award. How many pitchers can claim that as a drop? Scouts love him for his perseverance while executives love him for his toughness.
On the mound, Burns operates with a constant chip on his shoulder. At his job, he carries with him an arrogance, as many great players do. Those who know him best suggest he’s ready to post a monster season before free agency. The Orioles acquired an ace, a former pillar of the Brewers’ consistent recent success.
The Brewers’ maneuvering this offseason seems strange to me.
Yes, trading a star a year before he walks makes sense for a team operating on a smaller budget than most. They can’t risk losing him for nothing and they can’t repeat the Josh Hader trade from two years ago when they approached their star at the deadline and fell apart during the pennant race.
But Milwaukee had been operating in an interesting way before the move. According to league sources, owner Mark Attanasio has bolstered Rhys Hoskins’ bid to land the slugger, and the Brewers have made a competitive offer to Aroldis Chapman. They had a chance here to win and look like they are doing a great job of competing in 2024 while also prioritizing young players. They appeared to be taking advantage of a last-ditch opportunity with Burns and Willie Adams, another free agent after next season. What now? The messages are mixed, at best.
Beer grade: C+
Oriole grade: a
Eno Sarris: This makes a lot of sense for the Orioles. Burns has only been around for a year, but he’s one of the top three starters in the league along with two of the top 20 young players, at least My latest rankings. They may not have had a starting point guard for Ortiz on the field, and Hall may have been a guy who may have been a starter, perhaps a starter, perhaps even by his public comments. New ownership, a team coming off a great season – they took a chance.
This makes sense for brewers. They likely won’t pay to keep Burns once his team control ends after this season, and for Burns they’ll be getting some assets (and a pick) that could help them after this season.
In the minor leagues, Ortiz hit the ball 114.9 mph in 2023, something only 30 major leaguers did last season, and he did it with a better-than-average batting average and good defense. He could end up playing third or second for the Brewers this year, or even be in the mix at shortstop with Bryce Turang if Milwaukee continues the restart and sends Willie Adams somewhere (Los Angeles?).
On the pitching side, the Brewers are getting Hall, a left-hander who sat at 96 mph last year and has two or three really solid second base hits, though that velocity came in relief. He has had driving issues in the past but his positions over the past two years have been above average in small samples. Hall will have a great chance to get into the major league from day one this season, and the base operations suggest he could be a successful starter at that.
Perhaps the Orioles feel they have protected the assets of the best players at their position and turned a bullpen into one of the best starters in the league. The Brewers are excited about the future of the young players who will be in Milwaukee after this season. It works.
Beer grade: B
Oriole grade: a
(Top photo of Burns: John Fisher/Getty Images)
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