Can Burnes be the O's Eovaldi when October arrives?

When he met with the media on Friday to discuss the Orioles' acquisition of 2021 National League Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias summed up the feelings of a lot of people with a few words. 

“This is a big trade and big moment for our team,” Elias told reporters. “Corbin Burnes is exactly what we needed.”

And that about sums up much of the reaction across the industry – it’s pretty positive about the big move where the O’s got their ace. One they had been seeking with, as Elias said, “dogged pursuit the entire offseason.”

He and his front office made a deal that not only elevated the team’s chances to make the playoffs and win another American League East title, but maybe make a deep run when October arrives.

"There are a lot of things to be excited about here in Birdland right now. We’ve got everything going for us right now,” Elias said summing up the feeling right now of much of the fan base. Again with a few words.

The Orioles had two big boxes to check when the offseason began – late-inning relief, preferably a closer, and frontline starter.

And even though those adds happened nearly two months apart, check and check. Maybe checkmate for O’s opponents.

The team seems about done with its roster with spring training almost here.

“We’re still going to continue exploring opportunities, but we feel like this is a team that we are very excited to bring into Sarasota as is,” added Elias.

It was late December 2022 when the Texas Rangers signed Nate Eovaldi via free agency and everyone saw what he meant to their World Series run in his first season.

In Game 3 versus the Orioles, he gave up one run over seven innings. It was part of a postseason where Eovaldi made six starts, going 5-0 with a 2.95 ERA and .606 OPS against. He fanned 41 in 36 2/3, allowing a .225 batting average.

Could Burnes be the O’s Eovaldi? Did they get him for that reason?

“You know certainly that would be the hope. But we did not sit here mapping out our playoff rotation in February,” said Elias. “We’re too cognizant of how tough this game is and particularly our division. So everything that we are doing to prepare for the season is trying to gain some type of playoff spot and hopefully a division title again. But you know the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays and Blue Jays, we have to go into battle again with those guys and we’ll see what happens. So Corbin, the priority is thinking about the regular season and we hope we have a chance to take it from there.”

Before he gave up four runs over four innings last October in the NL Wild Card Series to Arizona, Burnes had a record of 1-0 and 1.20 ERA in seven postseason games. That playoff ERA is now 2.84.

Burnes, by the way, was not a very high draft pick. He was taken in round four, No. 111 overall, out of St. Mary’s college in 2016 by Milwaukee. He pitched well in the minors early on and Baseball America ranked him at No. 74 in 2018 and No. 46 in 2019.

Baseball America wrote this scouting report on him from December of 2017: “No prospect made a bigger leap in the organization in 2017 than Burnes, who ranked second in the minors with a 1.67 ERA while working at high Class A Carolina and Double-A Biloxi. His meteoric rise left Burnes closer to the big leagues than the Brewers envisioned when making him a fourth-round pick in 2016.”

Burnes pitched for Milwaukee solely as a reliever in his first big league season of 2018. He began the next year in their rotation but had an ERA of 10.70 after four outings and was moved back to the ‘pen. But he quickly figured it out and when given another chance to start in the shortened 2020 year, had an ERA of 2.11 and was sixth for the Cy Young Award that he would win the following year.

During his Zoom press conference, Elias was asked again about possible extensions for current young O’s stars.

“I’m going to keep having the same boring stance on that topic. I don’t talk about it,” said Elias. “It is something that I think is best approached or contemplated quietly. I think it helps with business with the agents and players when they know that any efforts that we made in the past or now or the future are not going to be put out there by our front office.

“But we’re doing a lot of really good stuff in this organization. We’ve built up an incredible core of talent in the minors and majors. We’re enjoying the fruits of that right now, we’re adding to it. And certainly exploring opportunities to keep guys longer than they are currently projecting to be here is something that we quietly explore and work on and we’ll just see what happens. But there are a lot of players in our core that we love. And the fans love. And they are bringing us into this era of what we hope is really good baseball."

Still the No. 1 farm: Baseball America released organizational rankings on Saturday and the Orioles have the No. 1 farm in baseball for the second straight year – even after the Burnes trade. Since late January 2023, the O's have traded five top 30 prospects in Darrell Hernaiz, Cesar Prieto, Drew Rom, Joey Ortiz and DL Hall, and they remain No. 1. Hall and Ortiz have been top 100 prospects. Players like Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson and Grayson Rodriguez graduated to the big leagues and they are still No. 1. 

Their farm is deep and still the best.

Baseball America ranked the Brewers, the team they traded with, second followed by the Rangers, the Cubs and Tigers. As for the rest of the AL East, the Rays are No. 7 with the Yankees at No. 9, Red Sox No. 13 and Blue Jays No. 24.

The Orioles were No. 22 in 2019, No. 12 in 2020, No. 7 in 2021 and No. 1 the last two years.

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