It was a quiet offseason for the Baltimore Orioles. Until it wasn’t. The Baltimore Orioles made a blockbuster deal to acquire Milwaukee Brewers ace Corbin Burnes. Burnes immediately slots in as the team’s ace, and a three-headed monster of Burnes, Kyle Bradish, and Grayson Rodriguez at the top of the rotation makes the Orioles a legitimate threat for the American League crown in 2024. If you have seen our fantasy baseball draft guide, you’ll know that Burnes is one of the guys I highlighted in our top fantasy baseball busts for the 2024 season. He was a player I was avoiding in drafts, but has my stance changed on that? Did the Brewers get a quality return in Joey Ortiz, DL Hall, and the 34th pick in this year’s draft for their stud right-hander and soon-to-be free agent? Let’s break down the Corbin Burnes trade from a fantasy perspective.
Burnes was already one of the top three or four pitchers off the board in most drafts, so it’s not like his fantasy value had much room to rise. So, that leads us to the question, does his fantasy value take a hit? My stance hasn’t changed on Burnes, and he still carries some risk that early on, especially when you consider that his strikeout rate has decreased each of the last three seasons, coming in at 25.5 percent last year, which was his lowest mark since 2018. Furthermore, his 12.2 percent swinging strike rate was far and away the lowest of his career. Here’s the same graphic I posted in our MLB Draft Guide, which you should get your hands on!
He does get a nice park upgrade with a good defensive unit playing behind him, but there’s some more potent offenses in the American League East compared to the NL Central. He’s in a better spot for wins, however, as Baltimore’s offense is better than Milwaukee’s, but if Burnes’ ERA slips into the mid-threes, and he allows as much contact as last year with the reduced swinging strike rate, isn’t he just a more expensive Aaron Nola, or Pablo Lopez? This is a pretty good landing spot all things considered for Burnes, but without one projected elite trait in 2024, I can’t select him at his current ADP.
Let’s dissect Milwaukee’s return. Let’s start with DL Hall, who has primarily worked as a starter, but when Baltimore has used him as a reliever, the returns have been very encouraging. Across 19.1 IP last season, he posted a 3.26 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 28.4 percent strikeout rate. He induced a lot of ground balls, and a strikeout-and-grounder archetype is a preference of mine. Milwaukee likely will give him a look as a starter, but at some point, he’ll be moved to the bullpen to manage his workload.
Ortiz was a highly ranked prospect in the Baltimore organization, and he’s better than his .212/.206/.242 across 34 plate appearances with the team last year. His ability to hit for power in the big leagues will certainly be called into question, but he routinely hits for a solid average in the minors, and he’s a plus defender. It will be interesting to see his role with the team, at least to begin the year. He could get time at third base and/or second base to get him into the lineup, but one would think the long-term hope is that he is the team's shortstop after they trade Wily Adames or he leaves in free agency. There is a chance that he opens the year in the minors, but he likely wouldn't be there terribly long, especially if Andruw Monasterio has a slow start to the season.
Milwaukee also gets back the 34th pick in this year’s draft, but even for the impending free agent, the return will seem a bit light at face value. However, could Burnes just be a one-year rental in Baltimore? Perhaps, which is why deals for impending free agents always seem to be quite favorable to the team acquiring the regarded better piece of the deal. All in all, I love this move for Baltimore, because they now have a legitimate three-headed monster at the top of its rotation. I’m still fading Burnes at his current ADP, so that hasn’t changed. Hall is an upside dart throw in the later rounds, hoping that he can parlay his success as a reliever into a starting capacity. Ortiz becomes a late-round flier with the hope that he is up with the team on Opening Day, but there is a chance he begins the year in the minors. However, in the later rounds, it's worth the risk.