One of the biggest weeks in recent Orioles history continued Thursday night with the acquisition of a former Cy Young Award winner for the top of the starting rotation.
A day after the club announced its pending sale to Baltimore native David Rubenstein and a new investor group for $1.725 billion, Mike Elias pulled off easily the biggest trade of his tenure as general manager by acquiring Milwaukee right-hander Corbin Burnes. The three-time All-Star selection led the NL in strikeouts (243) in 2022 and won the 2021 NL Cy Young Award with a league-leading 2.43 ERA and 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings over 28 starts that season. Burnes, 29, is set to make $15.6 million in his final season before becoming a free agent, meaning his addition could prove to be a one-year rental for a contender with eyes on the World Series.
The Orioles are sending left-handed pitcher DL Hall, infielder Joey Ortiz, and the 34th overall pick of the 2024 draft to the Brewers to complete one of the most significant trades of the major league offseason.
Desiring a No. 1 starter after last year’s 101-61 season ended abruptly with a sweep at the hands of the eventual champion Texas Rangers in the AL Division Series, Baltimore will now place Burnes at the top of a rotation that’s also projected to include 2023 breakout right-handers Kyle Bradish and Grayson Rodriguez, left-hander John Means, and right-hander Dean Kremer. Last season, Burnes pitched to a 3.39 ERA — his “worst” mark since 2019 — and averaged 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 32 starts covering 193 2/3 innings to help the Brewers win their second NL Central title in three years. His cutter is widely regarded as one of the very best pitches in baseball, and he should adjust nicely to pitching half his games at Oriole Park at Camden Yards with its spacious left field.
The 6-foot-3, 246-pound Burnes was nothing short of dominant in his only start against the Orioles last season, pitching eight shutout innings, allowing two hits, and striking out nine in a 10-2 victory in Milwaukee on June 7. He also tossed seven shutout innings at Camden Yards early in the 2022 season.
A 2017 first-round pick, Hall fared well in the Orioles bullpen late last season and has been one of Baltimore’s top prospects for several years, but injuries have stunted the 25-year-old’s development as a starting pitcher. Ortiz, 25, had a terrific season at the plate for Triple-A Norfolk last season and is an excellent defensive shortstop, but his path to playing time in the majors was blocked with the Orioles having such a logjam of young infielders in the organization.
The arrival of Burnes and the departure of Hall would appear to increase the chances of right-hander Tyler Wells moving to relief, a role in which he fared well late last season after dealing with arm fatigue over the summer. While the Orioles now have the makings of a very good starting rotation led by Burnes, the bullpen isn’t as formidable on paper with All-Star closer Felix Bautista expected to miss the entire season recovering from Tommy John surgery. Baltimore signed nine-time All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel to a one-year, $13 million deal in early December, but adding another high-leverage arm would be preferable, especially with Hall no longer being a late-inning option.
Still, a top three of Burnes, Bradish, and Rodriguez could be more formidable than any starting rotation the Orioles have enjoyed in decades, making this trade a no-brainer for Elias and the organization.