For 'now' and 'future,' Crew acquires Hall and Ortiz for Burnes

February 2nd, 2024

MILWAUKEE -- Last week, the Brewers signed arguably the best first baseman on the free-agent market when they landed slugger Rhys Hoskins.

On Thursday, they traded away their top starting pitcher. The Crew sent 2021 National League Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes to the Orioles for infielder Joey Ortiz -- No. 63 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects list -- along with left-handed pitcher and a selection in the 2024 MLB Draft.

MIL receives: INF Joey Ortiz, LHP DL Hall, 2024 Competitive Balance Round A pick (currently No. 34 overall)
BAL receives: RHP Corbin Burnes

Understanding that dichotomy is to understand the job of Brewers GM Matt Arnold, who is ever balancing the aim to extend the longest stretch of sustained success in franchise history, with five postseason berths in the past six years, and the need to continue stocking baseball’s No. 3-ranked farm system with elite, controllable, Major League-ready talent. With Burnes on track to reach free agency after the 2024 World Series, the Brewers deemed it the smart time to do the latter.

Hall could be a bullpen weapon for the Brewers immediately, and Ortiz will compete in a wide-open field at third base. Longer term, Hall could be a Major League starter. And the slick-fielding Ortiz could fit anywhere on the infield.

“I wouldn't at all look at this as any kind of rebuild at all,” Arnold said. “This is something, in fact, that we think helps us right now and helps us in the future.”

That didn’t make it easy.

“I think the overarching theme here is that we're excited about the players we're getting back,” Arnold said. “And the reality of our situation is that we had one year left with Corbin. I think Corbin had been pretty public about how this was going to be his last year as a Brewer.

“And so we felt like the opportunity to help our team right now with players like DL Hall, who was outstanding in the playoffs last year for the Orioles, is very young and Major League ready; Joey Ortiz, who we liked a lot; and a late first-round pick is a very well-balanced and exciting deal for us.

“Again, it's always tough -- and I've had to do this a number of times throughout my career -- to trade really good players. I understand that comes with some pain, and this is not an easy decision for us.”

Sometimes, Arnold argues, the effort to remain competitive means making a difficult subtraction. That is certainly the case with Burnes, one of baseball’s true No. 1 starters in his prime at age 29. He owns the second-highest fWAR (17.9) in MLB over the past four seasons.

In his absence, along with the absence of co-ace Brandon Woodruff, the Brewers will lean on 27-year-old Freddy Peralta as their top starter. He’ll be backed by a crop of veterans that includes Wade Miley, Colin Rea and perhaps Aaron Ashby or Joe Ross, if healthy. The Brewers also have a wave of prospects at the doorstep of the Majors, led by left-hander Robert Gasser and right-handers Carlos F. Rodriguez and Jacob Misiorowski. Hall, 25, could be another rotation option, although he’s just as tantalizing in relief.

“[Burnes] did everything as good as you could ever hope,” Arnold said. “Just a huge credit to him for everything that he's accomplished -- and our staff, as well. I mean, a lot of people are involved with the success of everybody, and it wasn't as clean a road as everybody remembers. It got off to a little bit of a rocky start, just like other guys.

“I think we're going to potentially go through some ups and downs with young pitchers. I think that's just the course of how it goes with young arms. But Corbin was nothing but a warrior for us. He was tremendous in every way, pitched in huge games for us, always took the ball and was just a winner. I’m thrilled for him and his opportunity going forward and also very excited about the players we're getting back here, as well.”

The 21st overall pick in the 2017 Draft, Hall held opponents to a .198 batting average with 499 strikeouts in 353 1/3 innings in the Minor Leagues and pitched parts of the past two seasons in the Majors, with 42 strikeouts in 33 innings over 28 relief appearances and one start. Hall made his postseason debut in the 2023 American League Division Series against the Rangers and struck out six of the 12 batters he faced.

“Frankly, I want to talk to him a little bit about it,” Arnold said of Hall’s role. “We think he’s going to have success in either role. I’d like to spend a little more time talking to him.”

Ortiz, 25, was the Orioles’ fourth-round pick in 2019 from New Mexico State University. A right-handed hitter, he has a slash line of .285/.357/.449 over his four Minor League seasons including a .321/.378/.507 clip last season at Triple-A Norfolk, with nine home runs, 58 RBIs and 11 stolen bases in 88 games. He made his Major League debut late in the season, including 11 starts that spanned second base, third base and shortstop.

“He’s thrilled to play anywhere,” Arnold said. “This guy’s a gamer. Hard-nosed kid. A great defender. Gold Glove-caliber type is in our reports.”

To make room on the 40-man roster, the Brewers designated for assignment former first-round Draft pick Ethan Small. Small is a left-handed pitcher who converted to the bullpen at the end of 2022.

The timing of Thursday’s trade -- 13 days before pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training -- reflects that there’s a long way to go on this offseason.

“I'm certainly open to more conversations,” Arnold said. “I certainly wouldn't shut any conversations down at this point in the offseason.”