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Orioles acquire Brewers ace Corbin Burnes, a former Cy Young winner

BALTIMORE -- The Orioles acquired former National League Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes from the Milwaukee Brewers for left-handed pitcher DL Hall, infielder Joey Ortiz and a draft pick, the team announced Thursday night.

Burnes, 29, is a three-time All-Star who immediately becomes Baltimore’s most accomplished starting pitcher. The right-hander broke out in 2021 to capture the NL Cy Young, leading the majors with a 2.43 ERA. He’s racked up at least 28 starts and 200 strikeouts in each of the past three seasons, but his relationship with the Brewers fractured over tense arbitration hearings. Burnes, who went 10-8 with a 3.39 ERA in 32 starts last year, is under contract through the 2024 season, after which he’ll be a free agent.

The Orioles overtook the Tampa Bay Rays and staved off the entire American League during the second half of last season largely because of their excellent starting pitching. But the young rotation fell flat in the postseason, as Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez and Dean Kremer each underperformed their expectations and combined to allow 13 runs in eight innings during Baltimore’s three-game sweep at the hands of the Texas Rangers in the AL Division Series.

Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said after the playoff failure that any criticism of the team’s shortcomings should fall on his shoulders. He took a major step Thursday in improving what was perceived as his club’s largest one.

It’s unclear exactly where Burnes will slot in Baltimore’s rotation after Bradish spent 2023 as one of the AL’s best starters, finishing fourth in Cy Young voting. But it’s almost certain he will start one of the club’s first two games in conjunction with Bradish. Rodriguez and left-hander John Means are locks to be in the rotation (assuming health), giving the Orioles a formidable quartet with two pitchers in Burnes and Bradish who have finished top four in Cy Young voting, a southpaw in Means who has thrown a no-hitter and made an All-Star team and a youngster in Rodriguez who was a year ago one of the sport’s top pitching prospects.

That would leave three pitchers competing for the rotation’s final spot: Kremer, Tyler Wells and Cole Irvin. Kremer would likely have an inside track to remain after going 13-5 with a 4.12 ERA. Elias said Hall’s and Wells’ roles won’t be determined until at least spring training, but both have experience in short relief, while Irvin, who is out of minor league options but was tendered a contract for his first arbitration year, could be a long reliever if he’s not in the rotation.

Acquiring a starting pitcher via trade was presumed to be more likely for the Orioles because of the club’s stockpile of top prospects and the franchise’s reluctance to spend big on a free agent. Most of the top starting pitchers on the free agent market have received multiyear contracts worth at least $20 million per year.

The addition of Burnes is a change of direction from Elias’ strategy the past two offseasons when he signed veteran innings-eaters Jordan Lyles and Kyle Gibson. Those two right-handers served valuable roles on their respective teams, but they were low-ceiling options while Burnes elevates the rotation and the Orioles’ chances to repeat as AL East champions.

The draft pick the Orioles are sending to Milwaukee is their 2024 Competitive Balance Round A pick, No. 34 overall. The Orioles also have picks Nos. 22 and 32, the latter of which they received as an incentive for Gunnar Henderson winning the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 2023.

Hall, 25, was the Orioles’ 2017 first-round pick. The left-hander struggled to stay healthy throughout his minor league career but showed plenty of upside when on the mound. He made 29 appearances for the Orioles with all but one coming out of the bullpen. Baseball America ranked him the 93rd overall prospect heading into 2024.

Ortiz, 25, made his big league debut for the Orioles last season, hitting .212 over 15 games after posting a strong campaign at Triple-A Norfolk. Though unranked by Baseball America, MLB Pipeline ranked him 63rd on its list. The versatile infielder was blocked at nearly every position by other Orioles prospects and stars in their organization.

The additions of Kimbrel and Burnes paired with the increases in salary via arbitration will boost the Orioles’ 2024 payroll closer to — but still far off from — the MLB average. Baltimore’s season-opening payroll of $60.9 million last year, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, was the second lowest in the majors.

Burnes will likely only be a rental for the Orioles unless they’re prepared to offer the Scott Boras-represented client a market-value extension. The accomplished starter said on the “Fair Territory” podcast in December he planned to test free agency regardless of whether he was dealt.

“Being in my shoes, being a year away from it [free agency], I think if a trade and extension type of deal came up, obviously every guy that gets this close to free agency wants to test the market to kind of see what your true dollar amount is, kind of see what teams really are in on you, so it would have to be something that would just absolutely I think blow you away to kind of get you away from testing the free agent market, being able to choose where you want to go because I think that’s kind of the one thing that every player in their career wants to get to.”

“Once you get that six years of service time, which for a lot of guys takes seven, eight, sometimes nine years to get to, you kind of get that chance to test the market and kind of see what your top dollar is.”