Analyzing the jaw-dropping Burnes trade from all sides

February 2nd, 2024

The Orioles and Brewers swung a stunning deal on Thursday night that sends former Cy Young Award winner to Baltimore. The Orioles, who won 101 games and the American League East last season, add a proven frontline starter. Milwaukee gets a Top 100 prospect, as well as a high-upside pitcher and a 2024 Draft pick for the right-hander, who is entering the final year of his current contract.

With the help of Orioles beat reporter Jake Rill, Brewers beat reporter Adam McCalvy, executive reporter Mark Feinsand and analyst Mike Petriello, here’s a breakdown of the trade and analysis on what it means for both sides.

Orioles receive: RHP Corbin Burnes
Brewers receive: SS (MLB Pipeline’s No. 63 prospect; was No. 6 for Orioles), LHP , 2024 Competitive Balance Round A Draft pick

Here is a breakdown of this intriguing exchange from all angles, via experts:

Why it makes sense for the Orioles
Via Orioles beat writer Jake Rill

Baltimore already had the bulk of a solid rotation returning for 2024, with youngsters Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez and Dean Kremer making huge strides over the past two seasons and John Means healthy nearly two years after Tommy John surgery. But the O’s needed an ace -- a true No. 1 starter who can get the nod for Game 1 of a postseason series and deliver.

Burnes is the exact type of pitcher who can fill that role. The 2021 National League Cy Young Award winner and three-time All-Star racks up innings (an average of 188 per season over the past three years) and strikeouts (an average of 206 per year during that same span). He also owns a 2.86 ERA in 105 games (102 starts) since the start of the 2020 season.

Last year, the Orioles’ rotation ERA of 4.14 ranked seventh in the American League and 11th in MLB. Their starters combined to allow 13 earned runs in eight innings while getting swept by the Rangers in the AL Division Series. Burnes should help lower the staff’s ERA and could ensure Baltimore makes a deeper run through the postseason.

Ortiz was blocked in the Orioles’ farm system, which is loaded with middle-infield talent, and Hall has yet to prove he can be a starter at the big league level. Baltimore still has five of baseball’s top 32 prospects following the trade. More >

Why it makes sense for the Brewers
Via Brewers beat writer Adam McCalvy

The Brewers have been transparent about their philosophy for years: When you put yourself in the playoffs year after year, you have a chance to be a team like last year’s Rangers or D-backs, who get hot at the right time. The Brewers have put themselves in the postseason in five of the past six years. They just haven't gotten hot in October yet.

To keep giving themselves those chances, they face hard decisions like trading Burnes, who owns the second-best ERA for a starter in franchise history but is entering his final season before free agency. Since the sides never made any headway in extension talks, the alternative was keeping him for the start of next season and either trading him at the Deadline or keeping him and getting only a compensatory Draft pick in return.

That’s probably not enough to keep the competitive cycle going, so general manager Matt Arnold instead acquired that premium Draft pick plus two young talents who can help immediately. Hall could win a bullpen job from the get-go, and Ortiz will compete in a wide-open derby for third base.

It’s tough business. Burnes is one of baseball’s few bona fide aces, and he’s right in his prime. But it was a call the Brewers felt they had to make. More >

Prospect profile
Via MLB Pipeline

SS Joey Ortiz (No. 63 on Top 100)
Age: 25 in 2024
Height: 5’ 9” / Weight: 190 lbs.
Bats: R / Throws: R
MLB ETA: 2024

Scouting grades (on 20-80 scale): Hit: 50 | Power: 50 | Run: 45 | Arm: 55 | Field: 65 | Overall: 55

2023 stats
Triple-A: .321/.378/.507, 9 HR, 58 RBI, 11 SB, 32 BB/69 SO (389 PA)
MLB: .212/.206/.242, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 0 SB, 0 BB/9 SO (34 PA)

There is no question Ortiz will be able to handle shortstop in the big leagues. He has great hands, outstanding actions and plus-plus instincts that combine with an excellent internal clock to make him close to an elite-level defender. He has a strong and accurate arm just to add to the package and has not slowed down even though he added a lot of strength to his frame during the 2020 COVID shutdown. His improvements at the plate have changed his profile from future glove-first utility type to someone who should be able to play shortstop every day in the big leagues soon. More >

Hot Stove implications
Via executive reporter Mark Feinsand

Speculation has run rampant for more than a year that Burnes would ultimately be traded, though after the Brewers signed Rhys Hoskins last week, it appeared that Milwaukee was prepared to keep its core together for another postseason run. Now that Burnes has been dealt, the Brewers could look to secure some more starting pitching, especially given the lack of a dominant team in the NL Central.

With Burnes and Tyler Glasnow pitching for new teams in 2024, the most prominent starters who could still be moved -- either before the season or later in the summer -- are Dylan Cease of the White Sox and Shane Bieber of the Guardians. The former comes with two years of club control, which could set up Chicago to acquire a bigger package than Milwaukee did for Burnes, as the former Cy Young Award winner is slated to become a free agent at the end of the upcoming season.

Diving deep
Via analyst Mike Petriello

“C’mon, Orioles, do something,” pleaded FanGraphs’ Ben Clemens two weeks ago, imploring a team coming off a surprise 101-win season to strike while the iron was hot. Consider that “something” done, capping off a wild 48-hour span that started with the unexpected news that the team would be sold. At 29 years old, Burnes, the 2021 NL Cy Young Award winner, is one of the few true aces in the sport, posting a 2.86 ERA over the last four years with a 31% strikeout rate. He ranks second among all pitchers in fWAR.

That status remains secure even with a 2023 that, on the surface, seems somewhat less dominant. His 3.39 ERA and 25% strikeout rate, while both strong, were the weakest since his 2020 breakout, but after a series of early-season tweaks to his pitch shapes -- including turning his slider into a sweeper, even though he doesn’t call it that -- Burnes had a 2.72 ERA over his final 16 starts. From June 1 on, only four regular starters were more difficult to reach base against than Burnes, and one of them, , was the unanimous AL Cy Young Award winner.

But the truly interesting thing here is that one of the other three names on that list was , Burnes’ new teammate, who had a breakout 2023. And young was in the top 20 after a midseason demotion to Triple-A. The 2023 Orioles rotation was middle-of-the-pack, no matter how you sliced it. The 2024 Orioles rotation could be something fantastic. Yes, Burnes is signed for just one more year, but the cost was an infielder they had no room for and a pitcher who may or may not be a reliever -- in exchange for a year of something like a top-five pitcher in baseball.

As for Milwaukee, this seems like a light return on the surface, but Burnes had only one more year of control left, and we’ve learned repeatedly over the years that such players don’t bring back huge hauls. Hall has a huge arm from the left side, but control issues sidelined his starting ambitions; a 2023 conversion to the bullpen brought back positive early returns.

Ortiz, 25, has a reputation as a glove-first shortstop. The question here is more about the direction than the return, because Milwaukee still seemed to be the favorite in a weak NL Central, and just recently added Rhys Hoskins to supplement their offense. Trading Burnes always seemed likely; what does it mean for what’s next?

Stat to know
Via research staff

Three: That’s how many times Burnes has reached the 200-strikeout mark in the past three years, making him one of five MLB pitchers with such a streak. But Burnes will stand out all the more in Baltimore. No Orioles pitcher has produced 200 K’s since Erik Bedard in 2007. Since the franchise moved to Baltimore in 1954, it has enjoyed just five such seasons by individual pitchers: three from Hall of Famer Mike Mussina, one from Bedard and one from Dave McNally. (In case you’re wondering, Hall of Famer Jim Palmer topped out at 199 strikeouts in 1970.)