Corbin Burnes Trade Grades: Orioles Strike Gold by Filling Key Need

There is no such thing as a baseball team who could not benefit from some extra starting pitching, generally, and from a durable starter with a successful track record, specifically. Which is to say that every team in baseball could benefit from having Corbin Burnes.

But there is no team who stood to benefit as much as the Baltimore Orioles.

Baltimore got its man in a trade on Thursday night. The Milwaukee Brewers will send Burnes to the Orioles in exchange for a pair of prospects, pitcher DL Hall and infielder Joey Ortiz, as well as a competitive balance draft pick. Here are our grades:

Orioles: A

Baltimore has suffered from an obvious need for starting pitching since the trade deadline last August. The Orioles still finished as the best team in the American League, yes, but that was only in spite of their rotation—and their lack of starting depth was a major reason their playoff run came to such a disappointing end. There was still plenty to like about this club. The Orioles’ promising young core should be in place for years, and they’re well stocked with high-end prospects, too. But to use their success from 2023 as a launchpad for more in ‘24, they would need some additional starting depth, preferably a front-of-the-rotation guy.

Burnes certainly qualifies.

Burnes, a 2021 Cy Young winner, posted a 3.39 ERA in 193.2 innings picthed in 2023.

Michael McLoone/USA TODAY Sports

The 29-year-old righty won the Cy Young in 2021 and received down-ballot votes in each of the last two years. He boasts one of the best cutters in the game, as well as a sharp curveball, slider and changeup. Barnes is durable—he has pitched at least 165 innings in each of the last three seasons—and consistently effective. Consider this: MLB has just eight starters who have thrown more than 500 innings over the last three years. That group includes Gerrit Cole, Zack Wheeler, Kevin Gasuman and Zac Gallen. It also includes Burnes, and of all of them, he’s posted the best ERA+.

There are few starters who offer as much instant value to a rotation. The Orioles couldn’t have asked for anyone better in that regard this offseason than Burnes. It’s true that he has just one year left on his deal before reaching free agency. But this one year increasingly looks as if it could be the year for Baltimore. This roster won 101 games last season. This is exactly the right moment to deal from their stash of prospects in order to land a short-term addition with a big impact. It helps that while these are good prospects, neither is among the crown jewels of this system, with Hall getting moved from rotation to bullpen in recent years and Ortiz blocked behind this infield. And it bears noting that new ownership in Baltimore—with very deep pockets—could potentially make for a longer relationship with Burnes.

In other words, Baltimore filled its biggest need with a three-time All-Star, and it didn’t give up anyone it couldn’t afford to lose. It’s hard to ask for more than that.

Brewers: C+

The last few years have shown over and over again that a one-year rental doesn’t yield what it used to in MLB. But even in that context, Milwaukee’s return for Burnes feels rather light. The Brewers are ostensibly still contending; they comfortably won the division last season and shouldn’t be ruled out from repeating this season. But this deal makes that harder.

If the Brewers weren’t going to extend Burnes—and it didn’t seem like they were—it made all the sense in the world to trade him. But it feels like they should have been able to get more in return. This winter is a relatively light market for pitching, in terms of both free agents and potential trade candidates, and Milwaukee should have been able to name its price for a starter of this caliber. That’s not to say the prospects in this package aren’t solid. Hall and Ortiz absolutely both have real upside. (They also have major-league experience already, which is presumably important for the Brewers, who should be looking for players ready to make an impact as soon as possible.) But there are question marks here, too. Hall has struggled with his command, which kicked him into the bullpen last year, though MIlwaukee could send him back to a starting role. Ortiz is a very capable defender who could work anywhere in the infield, but after his offense wilted in a limited showing in the majors last year, it may take a bit longer for his bat to come along. Both are certainly intriguing pieces. But as a package deal for Burnes, rounded out with only that draft pick, it feels like something is lacking here.

It never feels good to trade your homegrown ace. But there are ways to mitigate the fallout; a team can pull off a deal that feels understandable, at least, if not exactly favorable. This isn’t that. It’s not disastrous; Milwaukee very well may still contend this season. But the Brewers don’t come out feeling like winners here.

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