The Orioles have the young stars in Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson, with No. 1 prospect Jackson Holliday on his way to join them. They have a closer with a proven track record in Craig Kimbrel and a duo of young arms in Kyle Bradish and Grayson Rodriguez, who both have the potential to be aces.

But they were missing something.

Something that hurt them last season, when they were swept in an American League Division Series due, in large part, to a poor starting pitching performance from their three top starters available. Bradish, Rodriguez and Dean Kremer combined to pitch only eight of the Orioles’ 27 playoff innings, giving up 13 runs on 20 hits.

On Thursday, with less than two weeks until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, they took a big step toward filling that hole, acquiring Corbin Burnes from the Brewers in exchange for LHP DL Hall, INF Joey Ortiz and a competitive balance Round A draft pick. The Orioles are losing two major league-ready players in Hall and Ortiz for someone who has a proven record and can help this team win now.

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At the minimum, the Orioles just needed an arm, depth to hold them over in case Hall or Tyler Wells ended up back in the bullpen or an injury occurred. They could have gone for a middle- or bottom-of-the-rotation pitcher but instead landed Burnes, a 2021 Cy Young Award winner and a three-time All-Star. He will slot into the top of the Orioles’ rotation that currently includes Bradish, Rodriguez and John Means as locks. The fifth spot will likely go to Kremer, but Wells and Cole Irvin will also be in contention.

Burnes brings with him a cutter that’s among the best in baseball and a career ERA of 3.26, including 3.39 last year. He’s pitched in eight postseason games — more than the Orioles’ starting pitching staff combined — with two starts. He also provides durability, having pitched close to 200 innings in the past two seasons while also striking out over 200.

Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Kyle Bradish (39) delivers a pitch in a game against the Los Angeles Angels at Camden Yards on Wednesday, May 17. It was the third game of a series in the regular season/
Kyle Bradish enjoyed a 2023 season that rivaled or bettered Corbin Burnes'. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Slotting in behind Burnes will be Bradish, who was just as, if not more, impressive as Burnes last year. He ended the year with a 2.83 ERA in his second major league season, finishing fourth in Cy Young voting. Of the three who started playoff games for the Orioles, he fared the best, giving up two runs in 4 2/3 innings. The question for him is if he can do it again — one great season showed his potential, but his ability to replicate it will set his legacy.

Rodriguez will round out the one-two-three punch. He had an up-and-down 2023, starting the year in the minors before getting his first taste of the majors, a mixed affair that led him back to Norfolk after 10 starts. He found his footing again, returning to the majors in July and pitching to a 2.58 ERA down the stretch. Rodriguez, with his fastball that averages 97.4 mph, has the stuff to become one of the deadliest pitchers in baseball, if he can learn the lessons of 2023 and maintain it for an entire season.

Then comes Means, who was sidelined for most of the last two seasons after Tommy John elbow surgery and a back injury. He returned at the end of the 2023 season, pitching in four games but missing the playoffs due to elbow tightness. He said he’s fully healthy and ready to go now, and he expects to pitch a full season. At his best, Means is an All-Star, a sub-4 ERA starter and a veteran presence for the young starters.

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The fifth spot seems to be Kremer’s to lose. He had a solid 2023, notably securing the win for the Orioles when they clinched their playoff spot and the American League East title. His postseason start was a different story. Kremer gave up six earned runs in less than two innings as the Rangers eliminated the Orioles in Game 3 of the ALDS. But Kremer showed the ability to pitch a full major league season — a first for him.

Wells could also be in contention, but his role for the 2024 season has not been defined. He started last year in the rotation but was optioned in July after experiencing arm fatigue. He came back in September, playing a pivotal part in the bullpen. Irvin, acquired last year in a trade with the Athletics, also provides starting depth.

Danielle Allentuck covers the Orioles for The Baltimore Banner. She previously reported on the Rockies for the Denver Gazette and general sports assignments for The New York Times as part of its fellowship program. A Maryland native, Danielle grew up in Montgomery County and graduated from Ithaca College. 

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