Colton Cowser for Paul Blackburn? Joey Ortiz and Heston Kjerstad for Corbin Burnes? Or how about Coby Mayo for Shane Bieber?

Bottom line: The Orioles need another starting pitcher and it’s probably going to take a top prospect to make that move possible. But what prospects should they give up and for which starter? The Baltimore Banner’s Orioles reporter Danielle Allentuck and sports audience engagement editor Paul Mancano weigh in on what trades they would make if they were in general manager Mike Elias’ shoes.

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Oakland A’s RHP Paul Blackburn — 2022 All-Star, 4-7, 4.43 ERA, 9 K/9, 1.543 WHIP in 21 games (20 starts), 103.2 IP, 1.3 bWAR, two years of team control

Danielle Allentuck: Blackburn reminds me of Cole Irvin, who was acquired by the Orioles last winter for Darell Hernaiz, their No. 16 prospect. I would not send a top prospect just for Blackburn, but I could see a prospect in the 10 to 20 range, perhaps coupled with someone from the 20 to 30 range since the market is so tough for starters right now.

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Paul Mancano: Would Blackburn really present an upgrade to the rotation? Four Orioles starters — Kyle Bradish, Tyler Wells, Dean Kremer and Grayson Rodriguez — registered lower ERAs than Blackburn in 2023, and this list does not include John Means, who should be back in the fold in 2024. Unless the O’s lose a starter to injury during spring training and are desperate for depth, they shouldn’t dangle any top prospects for Blackburn.

Edward Cabrera #27 of the Miami Marlins throws a pitch during a game against the Milwaukee Brewers at American Family Field on Sept. 12, 2023 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Miami Marlins RHP Edward Cabrera — 7-7, 4.24 ERA, 10.7 K/9, 1.445 WHIP in 22 games (20 starts), 99.2 IP, 1.8 bWAR, not a free agent until after the 2028 season.

DA: The team control here is really valuable for me. Even if Cabrera doesn’t stick around the rotation long-term, you still have a quality arm that can help you for seasons to come. I would be willing to part with two of my top prospects. Samuel Basallo, the Orioles’ No. 5 prospect, is only 19 and still a season or two away from the majors. Right now, he slots in as the back-up catcher to Adley Rutschman. To me, it’s not worth keeping a back-up catcher when they could have a starter locked up through 2028. I would pair him Joey Ortiz, who would give Miami an infielder on the major league roster right away. The Orioles’ middle infield is crowded — with Jackson Holliday, Gunnar Henderson, Jorge Mateo, Jordan Westburg and Ramón Urías ahead of Ortiz on the depth chart — and Ortiz would likely be in Triple-A for most of the season anyway.

PM: Cabrera has great stuff but struggles with command — he walked a whopping 6.0 batters per nine innings in 2023. While the Orioles have a great track record of providing necessary tweaks to limit walks — see: Bautista, Félix — they’re not in position to give someone regular big league starts while he works through his issues. Still, the talent is tantalizing. I’d be hesitant to dangle Basallo, who jumped two minor league levels last season, but Ortiz, who can provide Miami with a steady glove at shortstop, second base or third base, should be on the table.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JUNE 13: Corbin Burnes #39 of the Milwaukee Brewers delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins in the first inning at Target Field on June 13, 2023 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Corbin Burnes #39 of the Milwaukee Brewers delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins in the first inning at Target Field on June 13, 2023, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (David Berding/Getty Images)

Milwaukee Brewers RHP Corbin Burnes — 2021 Cy Young winner, 3x All-Star, 10-8, 3.39 ERA, 9.3 K/9, 1.069 WHIP in 32 starts, 193.2 IP, 3.5 bWAR, entering final year under contract

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DA: Unless there’s an extension, Burnes would only be with the Orioles for one season. But if the Orioles are going for it, Burnes would be a great addition. Jordan Westburg, while technically not a prospect anymore, is as consistent as they come. Right now, he’s expected to be the backup to Henderson and Holliday. Why not swing big and part with a major league player in exchange for a starter who can help you win now?

PM: If the Orioles can swing a deal for Burnes by offering a package centered on Westburg, they shouldn’t think twice. Westburg proved to be a solid depth piece with defensive versatility, but I tend to think the Brewers will ask for one of Baltimore’s high-ceilinged prospects, like 22-year-old Coby Mayo, for Burnes. Mayo, who crushed 29 home runs and has a rocket arm, could be the O’s third baseman of the future. But if he’s the key piece in a deal for a Cy Young winner, I’d reluctantly surrender him.

Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Mitch Keller (23) throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles, Sunday, May 14, 2023, in Baltimore. (Julia Nikhinson/AP)

Pittsburgh Pirates RHP Mitch Keller — 2023 All-Star, 13-9, 4.21 ERA, 9.7 K/9, 1.245 WHIP in 32 starts, 194.1 IP (career-high), 2.9 bWAR, two years of team control

DA: The Orioles have Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays for the next two seasons, meaning unless an injury occurs, they don’t have the space for Colton Cowser to be a daily player. Cowser, their No. 2 prospect, would be enough to acquire Keller and a prospect in return, perhaps a starter who would be ready in two years when Keller enters free agency.

PM: Yes, Mullins and Hays are under team control through the 2025 season. But Anthony Santander and Ryan O’Hearn are scheduled to hit free agency in 10 months, leaving a gaping hole in the O’s outfield. Maybe Kjerstad — or Dylan Beavers? — will be ready to fill it, but it would certainly help to have depth. Still, Keller would be a great fit in the rotation.

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Starting pitcher Shane Bieber #57 of the Cleveland Guardians pitches at Progressive Field on September 27, 2023 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Cleveland Guardians RHP Shane Bieber — 6-6, 3.80 ERA, 7.5 K/9, 1.234 WHIP in 21 starts, 128 IP, 1.8 bWAR, entering final year of contract

DA: This is similar to Burnes for me. I don’t love that it’s the final year of his contract, but even one year can make a big difference. I wouldn’t send Westburg, but Ortiz or Connor Norby, the Orioles’ No. 7 prospect, could be options. Norby doesn’t have the same infield versatility as Ortiz, playing only second and some outfield, and ended last season in Triple-A.

PM: Bieber’s plummeting strikeout rate — from 41% in 2020 all the way down to 20% in 2023 — is a major cause for concern. So are injuries. The 28-year-old missed over two months with elbow inflammation this past season. Throw in his impending free agency, and I would draw the line at Ortiz.

Dylan Cease #84 of the Chicago White Sox throws in the second inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on Sept. 5, 2023, in Kansas City, Missouri. (Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Chicago White Sox RHP Dylan Cease — 7-9, 4.58 ERA, 10.9 K/9, 1.418 WHIP in 33 starts, 177 IP, 2.4 bWAR, two more years of team control

DA: No player has been linked to the Orioles more this offseason than Cease. The price tag for Cease is probably high, so I’m expecting it to take a big swing to grab him. I think it’s going to take a package to get him, and there are only a few names — Holliday and Mayo included — I wouldn’t trade. It’s going to take someone like Kjerstad and another prospect to get him. Kjerstad has a great bat, hitting .298 with 10 home runs in 76 Triple-A games, but isn’t trusted in the field yet. With O’Hearn and Ryan Mountcastle alternating between first base and designated hitter, and Rutschman also getting starts at DH on his days off from catching, the Orioles can part with someone who can only hit in exchange for two years of Cease.

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PM: It may seem surprising to some that the Orioles haven’t yet swung a deal for Cease. Armed with the best farm system in baseball, they can outbid any other team for his services. But what makes a deal so difficult is just how advanced their best prospects are: Six of the organization’s top prospects finished the year in Norfolk or Baltimore. It was the Orioles’ remarkable depth and ability to backfill a roster that propelled them to the playoffs in 2023. Is Elias finally ready to deal from his abundance of riches? For someone like Cease, I think the juice would be worth the squeeze. Surrendering a major league-ready bat like Kjerstad or Cowser might hurt, but it’s time for the O’s to take a swing.

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