The biggest domino in an eventful Brewers offseason fell Thursday night when Milwaukee dealt Corbin Burnes to the Baltimore Orioles for infielder Joey Ortiz, pitcher D.L. Hall, and the 34th overall pick in the 2024 amateur draft.
Burnes entered the offseason as one of baseball’s likeliest players to be moved. He’s due to hit free agency after the 2024 season, and any possibility of an extension with the Brewers was snuffed out the moment he won the National League Cy Young Award in 2021. The Brewers have made clear that they will always explore trades of expiring contracts for controllable talent to remain competitive with a limited payroll.
However, a Burnes trade appeared less likely as the offseason progressed. General Manager Matt Arnold did his best public posturing, insisting that the Brewers felt no pressure to trade their ace and even preferred to keep him. Reporters started pouring cold water on a potential deal.
It was starting to appear that the Brewers valued one last dance with Burnes, plus a compensatory draft pick after his departure, to be more valuable than the available trade returns. The front office ultimately knew this wasn’t true.
Acquiring cheaper long-term talent was always the best path, and a deal needed to happen before Opening Day. Holding Burnes and flipping him at the July trade deadline would only be worthwhile if the Brewers fell out of contention. Since Milwaukee plans to compete this year, that route was too risky.
Arnold got it done, completing a deal with the team best positioned to acquire Burnes. The Orioles needed starting pitching and boast arguably the sport’s deepest farm system.
As for the trade itself, none of the details are surprising. It fits the Brewers’ balancing act of competing in both the short and long term (the surprise signing of Rhys Hoskins never altered that approach), and the return was fair and reasonable.
Some will argue against that last point, but there was a disconnect between Burnes’ reputation and his trade value.
His accolades may include a Cy Young Award and three All-Star selections, but Burnes has one year of control remaining and is coming off a season that was more solid (3.39 ERA, 87 FIP-, 94 DRA-) than elite. A package of talented but less-heralded players would always be the best the Brewers would get.
This is partially why I think a return for Burnes won't be an earth-shattering package of elite talent like some think it might. https://t.co/fTJN3PXpNO— Jack Stern (@ByJackStern) December 27, 2023
The club also received a draft selection similar to the one they would have gotten as compensation for Burnes signing elsewhere. That detail shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Ortiz and Hall may not be top-tier prospects like Colby Mayo, Heston Kjerstad, or Connor Norby, but they’re talented players ready to make an MLB impact.
MLB Pipeline ranked Ortiz sixth in the Orioles’ system and 63rd overall. Hall was Baltimore’s No. 5 prospect in 2022 before graduating. Baseball America ranked him 93rd overall. Both players have options remaining and are controlled through the 2029 season.
Ortiz has the elite glove of Brice Turang with more power, posting a max exit velocity of 114 mph and a 44.1% hard hit rate in Triple-A last year. He also hit line drives at an excellent 31% rate, helping him hit 30 doubles in just 389 plate appearances. Ortiz does not barrel the ball enough to hit many home runs, but his profile as a doubles machine plays well as a middle infielder.
Ortiz projects as Milwaukee’s new second baseman and eventual successor to Willy Adames, the role originally intended for Turang before his alarming rookie season.
Hall has the kind of profile that can thrive under Milwaukee’s pitching development system.
The left-hander’s four-seam fastball sits in the mid-to-upper 90s. Due to his low-three-quarters arm slot, it comes in at a flat angle that helps it induce plenty of whiffs up in the zone. According to Statcast, both his slider and curveball have above-average movement. Hall’s changeup is the only pitch in his arsenal that does not grade out as above average or better.
He pitched almost exclusively out of the bullpen with the Orioles, but Hall has the arsenal to start if he can improve his command. Even if he ultimately ends up in the bullpen, he has the stuff to become a dominant reliever.
Ortiz and Hall are part of Milwaukee’s plans for this year, so trading Burnes is hardly a punt move for 2024. The Brewers have promised consistent competitiveness and affirmed that commitment by signing Hoskins.
The Brewers’ rotation is undoubtedly weakened by subtracting Burnes, who averaged 198 innings over the past two seasons. The club probably doesn’t plan to replace him fully. Instead, they’re betting that the development of young pitchers and improvements to the offense will come close enough.
Milwaukee is one of baseball’s best pitching development organizations. Pitchers regularly benefit from changes to their pitch mix and the elite defense behind them. The Brewers have pieced together reliable staffs in the past that looked suspect on paper (think of 2018’s deep playoff run with Jhoulys Chacin and Wade Miley atop the rotation). Hall joins a crop of young pitchers poised for big-league innings in 2024 that includes Robert Gasser, Jacob Misiorowski, and Carlos Rodriguez.
The Brewers also stand to improve upon last season’s 92 wRC+ as a team. Hoskins is a massive upgrade at first base or designated hitter, and Arnold has brought in several infielders to challenge the light-hitting Turang for playing time. With Burnes’ $15.6 million salary coming off the books, there’s room for the Brewers to add another bat to the payroll.
Trading Burnes was a move that needed to happen. The Brewers got it done and remain positioned to compete in 2024 and beyond.