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The Orioles Finally Got Their Ace

A day after news broke that the Baltimore Orioles had been sold, the team has made one of the biggest trade splashes of the offseason by acquiring right-handed pitcher Corbin Burnes from the Milwaukee Brewers. In return the Orioles send left-handed reliever D.L. Hall, infielder Joey Ortiz (Baltimore’s No. 6 prospect per MLB Pipeline), and a 2024 Competitive Balance Round A Draft pick.

Burnes, 29, immediately slots in as the headliner for the O’s after serving as one of the best starters in baseball since 2021. The three-time All-Star and 2021 NL Cy Young Award winner, owns a 2.94 ERA over 562 2/3 innings since becoming a full-time starter for Milwaukee in 2021.

He got off to a shaky start in 2023 by his standards, posting a 3.94 in 18 starts over the first few months of the season. He turned things around in the second half, posting a 2.71 ERA over 14 starts after the All-Star break. By season’s end, he had a 3.39 ERA while logging 193 2/3 innings across 32 starts. His 25.5% strikeout rate was still a few points better than the league average, as was his 12.2% swinging strike percentage. His efforts were good enough for an eighth-place finish in Cy Young voting.

Burnes is a tried and true ace that the Orioles desperately needed. While Kyle Bradish took leaps forward in 2023 and finished fourth in AL Cy Young voting, the team was betting on a repeat of that performance along with a bounceback year from John Means and a consistent year from Grayson Rodriguez. Those three pitchers will likely slide down a spot in the rotation, bumping Cole Irven to the bullpen or as a depth piece. Burnes is a reliable arm that will grind through a game, dominating the opposing lineup.

Of his 32 starts last season, Burnes failed to complete the fifth inning only twice and recorded 22 quality starts. The ability to take the ball and pitch deeper into the game is a great asset to have in the rotation, but not always necessary for the Orioles because of how strong their bullpen is. Being able to throw six or seven quality innings will likely help the Orioles’ pen stay fresh throughout the year.

He has also produced three consecutive seasons with at least 200 strikeouts. Since 2021, he has tallied the second-most strikeouts behind only Gerrit Cole, the ace of the New York Yankees. This command of the zone has helped set Burnes apart and with plenty of dangerous lineups in the AL East and the AL in general, Burnes will have his work cut out for him. He owns a career 59.2% first-pitch strike rate to go along with a 38% zone rate. Walks aren’t typically part of his lexicon, helping him remain aggressive towards batters and keep himself in the drivers seat.

Advanced metrics seem to love Burnes as a well. A quick look at his percentile rankings on Baseball Savant tell you all you need to know what caliber of pitcher he is.

Acquiring Burnes is a signal that general manager Mike Elias are aiming for a win-now mentally entering the 2024 season. I wrote earlier about how remaining inactive in the pitching market could harm the Orioles. After all, the only major pitching acquistion they had made to this point was the signing of closer Craig Kimbrel. For all intents and purposes, Burnes will likely be a one-year acquisition. He set to hit free agency following the 2024 season shortly after his 30th birthday. He made it clear earlier in the offseason that he intends to hit the open market, where he could sign a massive contract worth north of $200 million. Still, by acquiring him before the start of the season, the Orioles should be able to extend a qualifying offer and get a compensation pick of some kind.  Burnes earned roughly $10 million last season and signed a $15.637 million contract to avoid arbitration this season.

There are more moves the Orioles could make to further bolster their rotation, but at the very least Burnes is a top-tier move that makes an already great team on paper look even better. The O’s have World Series intentions on their minds and it’s going to be interesting to see they can live up their potential in the coming season.

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