A few months ago, general manager Mike Elias said the Baltimore Orioles would keep their "foot on the gas pedal” after winning 101 games and the AL East title.
This is what that looks like.
When they acquired All-Star right-hander Corbin Burnes on Thursday night, the Orioles sent a message to their own fans — not to mention the rest of baseball — by making it clear they weren't resting on their laurels after such a successful 2023. Baltimore used its deep pool of prospects to trade for a 29-year-old ace who now joins promising young starters Grayson Rodriguez and Kyle Bradish atop the rotation.
“A big trade and I think a big addition and moment for our team. Corbin Burnes is exactly what we needed,” Elias said Friday. “We were in a dogged pursuit of him the entire offseason. Obviously there were other starting pitchers that we pursued, but it's hard to have somebody higher than Corbin Burnes on your wish list.”
Burnes won the 2021 National League Cy Young Award and finished seventh and eighth in the voting the next two years. He leaves a team that won the NL Central and joins another division champion.
“Obviously fortunate to be traded from one team that was good to another team that is arguably even better,” Burnes said. “I've been a part of winning seasons for the last seven years now."
With young stars like catcher Adley Rutschman and infielder Gunnar Henderson under team control for a while — plus MLB Pipeline's top-ranked prospect in shortstop Jackson Holliday — the Orioles have set themselves up for an extended period of contention. But there have been questions about whether they can maximize it.
Among the ways they could solidify their status as an American League heavyweight:
— Raise their payroll, either by signing their young standouts to long-term deals or adding veteran free agents to what is currently a very inexpensive roster.
— Use their surplus of prospects to acquire veteran stars at positions of need.
It's possible that the pending sale of the team — announced this week — will make it easier for the Orioles to accomplish option No. 1. And the trade for Burnes is an example of what they can acquire with path No. 2.
Baltimore sent a pair of 25-year-olds — infielder Joey Ortiz and left-hander DL Hall — to the Brewers for Burnes. Ortiz hit .321 in Triple-A last year and could be very useful to Milwaukee, but Holliday and Henderson likely stood between him and regular playing time for the Orioles.
Baltimore also sent a competitive balance draft pick to Milwaukee in the deal, and the Orioles could potentially recoup something similar in the event Burnes leaves via free agency after the 2024 season.
Indeed, Burnes' expiring contract is the only obvious concern about this trade from Baltimore's perspective.
“Everyone wants to get to free agency, everyone wants to be able to pick where they want to play for their entire career," Burnes said. "I don't know what kind of talks will come about, but most likely it's going to be once the season starts, we'll want to focus in on winning baseball games.”
The Orioles already did a lot of that a season ago, and with Burnes in the rotation — and Rodriguez and Bradish having pitched well down the stretch in 2023 — their pitching has fewer questions than it did going into last year.
And the front office has now shown it can pull off a big trade for a proven star.
“He was at the top of the board from a talent perspective,” Elias said. “We talked about him at the very beginning of the offseason, but for a long time it wasn't clear whether the Brewers were ultimately going to put themselves in a position to explore trades on him. Once they did that, I think we have the firepower in our farm system to make these trades.”
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