Elias: Landing Burnes has 'tremendous impact' on O's WS hopes

February 2nd, 2024

BALTIMORE -- Mike Elias flashed several wide smiles Friday afternoon while expressing his excitement to arrive in Sarasota, Fla., for Spring Training in less than two weeks. The Orioles’ general manager will show up having accomplished the two major items on his offseason to-do list -- and in quite impressive fashion.

The 2024 fill-in closer for the injured Félix Bautista? That will be Craig Kimbrel, a potential future Hall of Famer with 417 career saves who signed in December.

The frontline starter to boost the top of the rotation? There weren’t many (if any) trade targets more coveted than 2021 National League Cy Young Award winner , who was acquired by Baltimore in a blockbuster deal with Milwaukee on Thursday night.

Add those two proven arms to a reigning American League East champion Orioles team coming off a 101-61 season, and the club should be viewed as a legitimate World Series contender heading into the 2024 season.

“There’s a lot of things to be excited about here in Birdland,” Elias said. “We’ve got everything going for us right now, and I hope that we get some good fortune this year, because I think we’ve got a good shot.”

A few hours later, Burnes expressed a similarly hopeful sentiment about what the near future holds for the talented O’s.

“Excited to be a part of the Baltimore organization,” Burnes said. “Having won over 100 games last year, it’s a good young group, a lot of young guys who have come up and done well the last couple of years. I’m looking to put my mark and help those guys, do whatever I can to help them get to the World Series.”

The Burnes trade was a momentous occasion for Baltimore under Elias, who was hired in November 2018 with the task of rebuilding the franchise. He did so by tearing down the Major League roster and replenishing the farm system with talent via the Draft and the international market.

It started with a lot of losing (a .341 win percentage from 2019-21) before the Orioles showed improvement in ‘22 (83-79) and then became a contending team in ‘23, when they reached the postseason for the first time since ‘16 and won their first division title since ‘14.

Contending teams make big-time moves, such as landing Burnes, a 29-year-old, three-time All-Star who has previously led the NL in ERA (2.43 in ‘21), strikeouts (243 in ‘22) and WHIP (1.07 in ‘23) while developing into one of baseball’s premier pitchers in Milwaukee.

“Corbin Burnes is exactly what we needed,” Elias said. “We were in a dogged pursuit of him the entire offseason. Obviously, there were other starting pitchers who we pursued, but it’s harder to have somebody higher than Corbin Burnes on your wish list. It’s a tremendous impact.”

Burnes was “at the top of the board, from a talent perspective,” per Elias, who worked extensively to find a trade partner for nearly three months. He wasn’t sure what the Brewers (the defending NL Central champions) would decide to do with Burnes, who is entering the final year of his contract in 2024.

As discussions intensified this week, it was relatively easy for the Orioles to find young players in their top-ranked farm system who would be of interest to the Crew. The two sides settled on infielder Joey Ortiz (MLB Pipeline’s No. 63 overall prospect) and left-hander DL Hall as the return for Burnes, as well as a 2024 Competitive Balance Round A Draft pick.

Because the Brewers are a contending team making win-now additions for 2024 themselves -- they signed first baseman Rhys Hoskins earlier this week -- Burnes was a bit surprised when he learned of the news via a call from Milwaukee GM Matt Arnold.

“Initial reaction was just shocked,” said Burnes, who was selected by the Brewers in the fourth round of the 2016 MLB Draft out of Saint Mary's College of California.

The trade was finalized Thursday, a day after the Orioles announced the Angelos family had reached an agreement to sell control stake of the team to a group led by private equity billionaire (and Baltimore native) David Rubenstein. But Elias said the timing of the Burnes trade was “not part and parcel” to the ownership news.

Elias has continued to work with chairman/CEO John Angelos, who will remain the control person of the club until the sale is finalized.

“Our partnership group has stuck to a plan and funded and supported the right investments at the right time through every stage of this,” Elias said. “That’s not just on the field, that’s not just Draft picks, that’s not just our international program, our Dominican Academy or all the staffing we’ve done. It’s the free-agent activity the last couple of years, and then a trade like this to try to get us over the hump.”

This was a far bigger move than any previous one in Elias’ tenure. He signed veteran starters Jordan Lyles (‘22) and Kyle Gibson (‘23) to one-year deals the past two offseasons, and each served as rotation leaders and workhorses. Burnes, however, is a true ace and No. 1 starter, which Baltimore hasn’t had throughout Elias’ tenure.

Burnes is the caliber of pitcher the Orioles could want to sign to a long-term deal. But Elias isn’t focused on that yet, noting it “isn’t something that he nor I nor [Burnes’ agent] Scott Boras is thinking about right now.”

Instead, Elias is excited about how Burnes can contribute in 2024, which already has the makings of another special year in Baltimore.

“Everybody’s thrilled that he’s joining this great team. We can’t wait to see him. I know he’s going to love it here,” Elias said. “We’ve got an energized fan base. We’ve got an amazing roster. And I think he’s going to enjoy it.”

Added Burnes: “Going from a team that has done nothing but win to a team that is arguably better and is going to probably win for many years to come is exciting. I’m just hoping to add to that group whatever I can.”