The Orioles’ lengthy search for a top-end starting pitcher came to a close Thursday night when they traded for former Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes from the Milwaukee Brewers.
With Burnes’ addition, Baltimore appears to have checked off its largest offseason goal. Burnes, 29, has made three straight All-Star teams and is coming off a season in Milwaukee in which he pitched to a 3.39 ERA with a 1.069 WHIP. He is due to receive a salary of $15.6 million in 2024.
The Brewers are receiving two high-level prospects in return — left-handed pitcher DL Hall and infielder Joey Ortiz — along with a competitive balance Round A pick in 2024. Although Hall, a former first-round pick, and Ortiz may have bright futures, the Orioles avoided sending any of their most coveted prospects, such as Jackson Holliday, Coby Mayo or Samuel Basallo, to Milwaukee.
Burnes holds a career ERA of 3.26 and won the National League Cy Young Award in 2021. He has one year of team control remaining, making him a free agent after the 2024 season.
Since 2019, Burnes has revolutionized his pitch mix. He started throwing primarily four-seam fastballs, but batters hit .425 when making contact against that offering. The next season Burnes began increasingly using a cutter, and his career took off. Last year, he had one of the best cut fastballs in the game with a plus-18 run value, according to Statcast. His curveball, changeup and slider are also strong pitches, even if less frequently employed.
Pitching at Camden Yards could do wonders for Burnes. If he had made all his 2023 starts at Oriole Park, Burnes would have surrendered seven fewer home runs, according to Statcast.
Still, Burnes took slight steps back last year, seeing his walk rate climb to 8.4% and his strikeout rate recede to 25.5%.
Last week, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said the Orioles had spoken to all 29 other teams in MLB regarding trades. He added that the team is better positioned to secure a high-level starting pitcher through a trade rather than free agency, considering the Orioles’ prospect capital.
The club is “probably being as aggressive as any team out there,” Elias said.
In the last four seasons, Burnes has finished sixth, first, seventh and eighth in Cy Young voting. He immediately adds a veteran arm to a Baltimore rotation that lacked experience last year and scuffled in the postseason. He’ll likely lead a rotation that features a mix of Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez, John Means, Dean Kremer and Tyler Wells.
Hall and Ortiz (Nos. 6 and 7 on Baseball America’s Orioles prospect rankings) made their major league debuts with the Orioles but struggled to lock in full-time roles. They should receive immediate opportunities with the Brewers.
Hall, who Elias said last week was still viewed as a candidate for the rotation, pitched mainly out of the bullpen in two partial seasons for Baltimore. Across 33 innings, Hall held a 4.36 ERA, although he improved mightily last year with a 3.26 ERA in 19 1/3 innings. His command, a sticking point in an up-and-down 2022, improved last year, too. He went from averaging four walks in nine innings to 2.3.
Ortiz, a 25-year-old utility infielder, played 15 games last year as a rookie in the majors. He hit .212. Long known for his glove, Ortiz proved he can hold his own at the plate, batting .321 in Triple-A last season.
“If another team wants you, it’s always flattering,” Ortiz said last week. “But I’m with the Orioles right now, so I’ve got to plan on being here.”
The trade comes during a week of franchise-altering news. An investment group led by billionaire Maryland resident David Rubenstein announced a deal to purchase a controlling stake in the Orioles from the Angelos family.