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Corbin Burnes trade grades: Orioles’ depth minimizes risk in deal for Brewers ace

The Orioles’ sale hasn’t yet been formally approved, but Thursday night’s trade of infielder Joey Ortiz, pitcher DL Hall, and a draft pick for Brewers ace Corbin Burnes might be a sign of a shifting philosophy for the organization.

Baltimore teased a major pitching acquisition for multiple years as the team quickly emerged from a rebuild, but it won’t be lost on fans that the move didn’t come until owner John Angelos waved the white flag and agreed to hand over control to billionaire David Rubenstein.

Regardless of what pushed the deal over the line, the Orioles have their ace — for one year, at least. The Brewers, meanwhile, resisted an all-out rebuild after losing manager Craig Counsell to the division-rival Cubs, even signing Rhys Hoskins just last week, but the trade of Burnes is a major turning point for a franchise that relies on developing homegrown talent.

Who won the three-player deal? Here’s a closer look at how the Burnes trade grades out for both the Orioles and Brewers.

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Corbin Burnes trade grades

Orioles grade: A

  • Orioles receive: SP Corbin Burnes

While the 2023 season was a resounding success for the Orioles, it would be fair to say they let their fans down at the trade deadline by making Jack Flaherty their long-promised rotation addition. Flaherty predictably flamed out in Baltimore, and the Orioles were fortunate that both Kyle Bradish and Grayson Rodriguez finished the year as strong as they did. 

It wasn’t starting pitching that cost the Orioles in the postseason, for the most part. The offense simply didn’t live up to expectations against the eventual World Series champion Rangers. Over a full season, though, Baltimore knows its offense has more than enough in the tank, particularly with top infield prospect Jackson Holliday likely to debut in 2024. Adding a starter had to be a priority, and it couldn’t be in the mold of Baltimore’s Flaherty or Kyle Gibson additions. 

Burnes is a rental, pending what Rubenstein ponies up in the offseason, but the Orioles have played themselves into a franchise that should be taking risks to win big. Baltimore has a window to win a championship in 2024, particularly with no clear powerhouse like the Dodgers in the AL, and a rotation headed by Burnes, Bradish, and Rodriguez with Dean Kremer, John Means, Tyler Wells, and Cole Irvin as the remaining options is more than formidable.

With closer Felix Bautista (elbow) likely out for the season, the Orioles couldn’t simply rely so heavily on their bullpen again. If the deal doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. To sit around and make no meaningful rotation addition after a 101-win season with a cheap young core in place would have been malpractice.

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Burnes isn’t the perfect pitcher. His strikeout rate dipped last season, and his velocity dropped just enough to be noticeable. On the other hand, Burnes was better in the second half than the first half, so fatigue or injury don’t seem to be concerns. 

The Orioles’ depth is what makes this a low-risk deal. Ortiz is a promising prospect who has flashed excellent contact skills in the minors, but he’ll turn 26 in July. The Orioles already have Gunnar Henderson, Holliday, and Jordan Westburg as long-term fixtures in their infield, and Coby Mayo’s ceiling also seems to be higher than Ortiz’s. 

Hall gave the Orioles some stability out of the bullpen for a portion of last season, but he struggled to stay healthy in the minors and hasn’t thrown more than 85 innings in a season since 2018. Hall may very well turn out to be a strong relief option for the Brewers, but Baltimore couldn’t bank on the lefty holding up as a full-time starter. 

One could knock the Orioles for passing on more controllable options, including Dylan Cease, but trading for Burnes allows Baltimore to hold onto their top five prospects and their young major-league bats. The risk is low, even if Ortiz develops into a solid major-league hitter in Milwaukee.

Brewers grade: C+

  • Brewers receive: INF Joey Ortiz, P DL Hall, No. 34 pick

The Brewers have proven they know how to develop pitching. They understand they need to bolster their offense with controllable bats, which is why they traded for William Contreras a year ago and why they were willing to extend Jackson Chourio before he even saw a major-league pitch. Ortiz is the latest result of that strategy.

Still, it’s understandable that Brewers fans might come out of the deal feeling dissatisfied. Ortiz raked in Triple-A last season, but at nearly 26, what you see is what you get. The Brewers don’t seem close to competing for a deep postseason run, and Ortiz might be in his late-20s by the time they are.

This deal suddenly looks much better on the surface if Ortiz and another young Milwaukee bat — perhaps Sal Frelick — break through to give the team a solid young core in the lineup, but that group alone might have a hard time getting the Brewers back to where they were last season with less stability in the rotation. 

Hall might profile better as a relief arm than a rotation option considering he battled numerous injuries while moving through the Orioles’ system. The Brewers thrive on their bullpen, but unless Hall can stay healthy and stretch into a reliable starter, the value of a pitcher throwing 50-70 innings is limited. 

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The return for a player entering his contract year is only going to be so much. That’s why the Nationals’ return for Juan Soto seemingly had so much more upside than the Padres’ return in their deal with the Yankees. Controllable players come at a cost. With that being said, the Rays’ return for Tyler Glasnow seems to be more promising than what the Brewers got here.

The Rays also received a package of two older players for the contract-year starter, landing a potential front-line starter in 26-year-old Ryan Pepiot and a potential power bat in 25-year-old Johnny DeLuca. Granted, Glasnow signed an extension with the Dodgers shortly after the deal, and Los Angeles also received OF Manuel Margot. It’s still tough to justify Glasnow being that much more valuable of a trade chip than Burnes considering the former’s lengthy injury history and the latter’s durability and age. 

What boosts this deal for the Brewers is the draft pick, which shouldn’t just be ignored. The Orioles would be the first to tell you that picks in the 30-45 range (Gunnar Henderson, Jordan Westburg) can turn into franchise building blocks. The two-player package is generally underwhelming, but a strong pick at No. 34 would ease the blow of losing one of the NL’s best starters. 

The Brewers rely on developing talent rather than adding from outside the organization. Would it have made more sense to maximize Burnes’ value and trade him a year earlier? Potentially, yes. The return could have made the franchise’s future more promising than it is right now. 

Milwaukee has a few promising young bats for the first time in quite a while, but an organization that has rested on its stellar pitching seems stuck in the middle right now.

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