Corbin Burnes says relationship with Brewers 'definitely hurt' after team blamed him for missing playoffs in hearing
If there is any moment that makes it clear to a player that Major League Baseball is a business, it's an arbitration hearing. Corbin Burnes and the Milwaukee Brewers just demonstrated why that is.
Throughout the early days of a player's professional career, he and a team will usually be aligned on their goals. The team supports the player from his drafting to his MLB debut so he can get to the majors and win ball games.
That relationship takes a hard turn two or three years into a player's career, thanks to the arbitration process, in which the player and team each submit an amount of money they think the player deserves based on his past performance. The team, which to that point has done all it can to prop up the player, will suddenly have analysts devoted to arguing that he actually shouldn't be paid that much.
Baseball is supposed to be a business, but it can feel personal. The sides often settle before getting to a hearing, in part because of how uncomfortable that hearing can be. That's why Brewers fans might've been a little worried when their team took Burnes, the 2021 NL Cy Young winner, to a hearing rather than settling.
The good news is the Brewers won, with the arbitrator agreeing with their proposed 2023 salary of $10.01 million, rather than Burnes' number of $10.75 million, but it sounds like the team went about arguing its case in the most brutal way possible.
As Burnes explained in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel video above, the team claimed that he was a major reason they didn't make the postseason last year:
"They're trying to do what they can to win the hearing, but I think there were other ways they could have gone about it and probably been a little more respectful with how they went about it. At the end of the day, here we are. They obviously won it.
"There's no denying that the relationship is definitely hurt from what transpired over the last couple weeks. There's really no way getting around that. Obviously, we're professionals, and we're going to go out there and do our job, keep doing what I can every fifth day that I go out there. But with some of the things that are said, for instance, basically putting me in the forefront of why we didn't make it to the postseason last year, that's something that probably doesn't need be said. We can go about a hearing without having to do that."
The Brewers finished second in the NL Central last season, with a record of 86-76, and came in one game behind the Philadelphia Phillies for the final NL wild card.
In 2022, Burnes followed his Cy Young season with another strong campaign, posting a 2.94 ERA in 202.0 innings across 33 starts with an NL-best 243 strikeouts, a 3.14 FIP and a 0.965 WHIP. He didn't hit the injured list once and finished second on the team, behind only shortstop Willy Adames, in WAR as calculated by Baseball Reference.
For many pitchers, that would qualify as a career season, but it apparently wasn't enough for Milwaukee. A team's best player being blamed for its falling short of expectations is a fairly common argument in sports bars and online forums, but it's rare to hear that a team has allegedly gone as far as weaponizing that in a formal setting.
If this hurts Burnes' relationship with the team permanently, it's difficult to envision that manifesting on the field, but it could be a factor in future attempts to keep Burnes in Milwaukee long-term. Then again, given the money the 28-year-old is likely to command when he hits free agency in 2025, maybe the Brewers are already aware that a good relationship won't help them much.