No trade was ever going to top Juan Soto to the Yankees earlier this offseason, but here we are in February with one that comes pretty close. The Orioles have acquired Corbin Burnes, one of the few surefire aces in the game today, for two of what we’ll call prospects.
Or are they ex-prospects? I think infielder Joey Ortiz (or Joseph Ortiz, as he’s known in our system) technically is a prospect and DL Hall technically isn’t, but the point is that their time in the majors so far hasn’t done anything to improve their stock.
It’s a head-scratcher of a move precisely for that reason. The Brewers had just made a play for Rhys Hoskins. They seemed to have a path in the NL Central. Sure, Burnes is an impending free agent, but the trade deadline is still months away, with the Brewers potentially being buyers at that point. They had their hand around the neck of the Orioles, an organization with an embarrassment of prospect riches … and settled for this.
Of course, there’s a reason I’m not running a big-league organization, so I’ll try to think along with those who are. And not just for intellectual rigor — there are Fantasy implications here. The now-depleted Brewers present the sort of opportunities that the ever-so-stacked Orioles didn’t, which may be why Ortiz and Hall didn’t take off as hoped.
But first, we have to talk about Burnes
Stock up for Burnes
It’ll be difficult to show in the rankings because he was already my No. 5 starting pitcher, but this trade may be enough to move Burnes ahead of Zack Wheeler and Kevin Gausman, making for a clear No. 3 at a position that lacked one. He goes from a fringe NL contender to what may be the AL favorites. The Orioles are post-rebuild and loaded for bear, having more talented hitters than they know what to do with. If they could win 101 games without Burnes or Jackson Holliday, imagine what they could do with them.
Meanwhile, they play in what’s become one of the majors’ most pitcher-friendly ballparks following the changes to the left field fence two years ago. Burnes’ old home, American Family Field, is on the other end of spectrum, and he had a 4.28 ERA there last year. For his career, his ERA is about 75 points higher at home than on the road, which is a bit surprising given that he’s known for being a bat-misser and isn’t particularly vulnerable to fly balls, but Statcast estimates that he would have allowed seven fewer home runs if he had played every game at Camden Yards last year. That’s significant.
It also serves to counteract concerns about his diminished stuff, to whatever degree those even exist. It’s true he got off to a bumpy start last year, the velocity on his primary pitch, the cutter, lagging by about 1 mph, but he regained half of that in short order and went on to deliver a 2.71 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 10.2 K/9 in the second half. That was reassurance enough for me.
The Brewers infield is suddenly interesting
Most depth charts right now show Andruw Monasterio at third base and Brice Turang at second base for the Brewers, which is enough to provoke a loud “yuck!” from me. But those depth charts aren’t accounting for a pretty exciting prospect in Tyler Black, and now they’re not accounting for Ortiz either. Black would be a natural fit at third base while the more defensive-minded Ortiz could play anywhere.
“But what about offense?” asks those of us playing Fantasy Baseball. The bigger draw is Black, who walked 88 times and stole 55 bases between Double- And Triple-A last year. His power is less of a certainty, but he homered 18 times between those same two levels and would of course benefit from playing at American Family Field.
To the extent Ortiz hinders his path, this trade isn’t so great, but at least in theory, there’s room for both. Maybe the Brewers won’t be so quick to turn the page on Turang, who only debuted last year, but other than his 26 stolen bases, he showed nothing that Fantasy Baseballers would miss. Ortiz represents an upgrade if for no other reason than he couldn’t possibly be worse, and the data actually reveals some intriguing possibilities.
Sure, he did nothing over 34 scattered plate appearances in the majors, but Ortiz hit .321 with an .885 OPS at Triple-A last year after hitting .284 with an .826 OPS in the minors two years ago. The home run and stolen base totals are underwhelming, but his average exit velocity (90.0 mph), max exit velocity (114.9 mph) and zone-contact rate (89.7 percent) at Triple-A last year are about as good as it gets, suggesting there’s more upside here than meets the eye. He’s much more likely to deliver on that upside in Milwaukee and deserves some late-round looks in deeper Rotisserie leagues as a result.
The Brewers rotation is wide open
Yup, things are looking really ugly after Freddy Peralta. Losing Brandon Woodruff to injury was bad enough, but with this trade, Wade Miley is about the only other pitcher deserving of a rotation spot for the Brewers. But a lack of certainty is a wellspring of opportunity, and in particular, I’m eyeing three left-handers.
One is Hall himself. He may have simply been too much of a project for a team with as much on the line as the Orioles, his ridiculous fastball undermined by some glaring control issues, but the Brewers have had success developing this type of pitcher in the past. His stint in the bullpen late last year saw him throw 65 percent of his pitches for strikes, which is plenty good enough for a pitcher with his stuff. It’s hard to make any sort of investment in him now, with his role still up in the air, but he’s one to watch.
Another is Aaron Ashby, who was of course plenty hyped just a couple years ago, combining elite strikeout numbers with elite ground-ball numbers while at his best. He’s on the mend from shoulder surgery, which cost him most of 2023, but reports of his recovery have been positive. Once again, we can only guess as to his role until spring training starts.
Finally, there’s Robert Gasser, a former Padres prospect who has yet to make his big-league debut. He came over in the Josh Hader deal and has put up some quality strikeout numbers in the minors even though he’s not a particularly hard-thrower. My guess is his ceiling is limited for Fantasy purposes, but don’t be surprised if he gains some traction this spring.