A good rotation gets better as O's add right-hander Corbin Burnes

Outside of the excitement over the weekend of Birdland Caravan, the new ownership group news and getting an ace pitcher, anything else going on around Birdland lately?

The Orioles rotation, which was pretty good most of last year and very good in the second half, just got better for the 2024 season. Last October, it was the Rangers who had Nathan Eovaldi as a difference maker. The O’s hope Corbin Burnes could be that guy this October.

You don’t see legit aces traded very often, but Milwaukee pulled the trigger on a move that hurt them in ’24 but may be big for their future as they add lefty DL Hall and infielder Joey Ortiz. They also got the No. 34 pick in the 2024 MLB Draft.

The O’s added a true No. 1 pitcher and now their top four in the rotation features two pitchers that have finished in the top four at least once for the Cy Young voting, another that has made an All-Star team – giving them two All-Stars in the rotation – plus a young stud that was once the No. 1 pitching prospect in baseball.

How do we like it? Let’s count some ways.

Burnes is the 2021 National League Cy Young Award winner, the 2022 NL strikeout leader and an All-Star from 2021-2023. Over his final 14 starts last season, he pitched to an ERA of 2.71 with an 0.98 WHIP and .187 average against.

Kyle Bradish, who could now move to No. 2 in the rotation, finished fourth for the AL Cy Young Award last season when his ERA of 2.83 ranked fourth in the majors. His ERA was 2.18 his last 19 starts.

Young flamethrower Grayson Rodriguez could slot in No. 3 now after pitching to an ERA of 2.26 his last 12 starts of 2023 and to an ERA of 1.80 over his last six.

John Means, a 2019 All-Star, has pitched to an ERA of 3.62 or less in four of his last five seasons. He had a 2.66 ERA in four September starts after his comeback from Tommy John surgery.

Right-hander Dean Kremer could slot in No. 5 and his ERA was 2.89 his last 10 starts. Or Tyler Wells could be that guy, or Cole Irvin.

So now the O’s add Burnes, 29, to a rotation that posted a second-half ERA of 3.74 last summer. That ranked third-best in the AL and fifth in the majors. The O’s second-half team ERA of 3.58 led the AL and was third in the majors.

And while the Orioles lost a draft pick in the deal, if Burnes leaves via free agency next winter, they could add one by his signing elsewhere. The O’s would have to make Burnes the one-year qualifying offer, which was $20.325 million this year. If any player plays with a team all season and gets the qualifying offer, declines it and signs elsewhere, the team losing the free agent gets a draft pick.

As I read the rules last night, it’s a pick at the end of the first round if the team gets revenue sharing money (the O’s have in the past) and the player leaves for a contract of $50 million or more (Burnes easily would do that).

Burnes is repped by Scott Boras and has talked in the past about wanting to test free agency. Re-signing him, even if the new ownership group proves to have deep pockets, could be a real challenge.

But with this trade, the O’s showed they are going for it this year with a team coming off 101 wins. The AL East is tough again, of course, but the O’s may have just made the move to keep them on top.

They also retained their top five ranked prospects per Baseball America, which has recently ranked Hall as their No. 6 prospect and Ortiz No. 7.

Baseball America's JJ Cooper tweeted last night: “The Orioles have the top farm system in baseball. No matter who all is in this trade, the gap is so big that they likely will still have the best farm system in baseball.”

So yeah, the rotation gets better and the farm is likely still No. 1. Jackson Holliday, Samuel Basallo, Coby Mayo, Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad all still say hello. Did we mention the new ownership group coming on board? Or that they have a new lease? Or that Oriole Park will soon be getting $600 million in improvements?

Season tickets, anyone?

Last year, Burnes threw his cut fastball 55 percent of the time, used his curveball 17 percent, changeup 11, slider nine and two-seamer eight. Batters hit .209 off his cutter, .133 with a 48.8 whiff rate off his curve, .204 off his change, .159 against his slider with a 43.8 whiff rate and .291 off the two-seam.

The last four seasons he has finished sixth, first, seventh and eighth in voting for the NL Cy Young.

In those seasons, he has thrown a combined 622 1/3 innings with a 2.86 ERA that produced a 146 ERA+. His WHIP is 0.996 in that span and his K rate is 11.1 with a 2.5 walk rate. Yep, an ace. Legit No. 1.

In 70 seasons of O’s baseball, they have had five instances where a pitcher fanned 200 or more in a year. Mike Mussina did that three times, while Erik Bedard and Dave McNally did it once each. Jim Palmer’s career high is 199. The last three seasons, in order, Burnes has fanned 234, 243 and 200 batters.

He has pitched in eight career playoff games with a 2.84 ERA and 0.895 WHIP over 19 innings. Although in his one outing last year – in the NL Wild Card Series – he allowed four runs in four innings versus Arizona.

Burnes has gone 2-0 with a 1.26 ERA in five career starts versus AL East teams and he threw eight scoreless against the Orioles last June.

During his Cy Young campaign in 2021, Burnes became the third pitcher in Brewers franchise history and the first since the team joined the NL to win the award, along with Pete Vuckovich (1982) and National Baseball Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers (1981). He led the major leagues in ERA (2.43), strikeout rate (35.6 percent), Fielding Independent Pitching (1.63) and home runs per nine innings (0.38), while ranking among NL leaders in WHIP (second, 0.94), walks per nine innings (second, 1.83), strikeouts (third, 234), opponent average (fourth, .201), hits per nine innings (fifth, 6.63) and quality starts (T-10th, 18). Burnes started the year with 58 strikeouts before issuing a walk, breaking the major league record to begin a season.

Via their Twitter/X account last night, the Orioles welcomed the new pitcher here while wishing the best to Hall and Ortiz here and here. They had some props for executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias here.

A few thoughts on Burnes trade
Orioles acquire Brewers righty Corbin Burnes in tr...

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