What Are the Brewers Doing After the Corbin Burnes Trade?

Following the blockbuster deal that sent Corbin Burnes to the Baltimore Orioles, what more can we expect from the Milwaukee Brewers?

Willy Adames
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JULY 11: Willy Adames #27 of the Milwaukee Brewers waits for a replay on a call at second base against the Cincinnati Reds at American Family Field on July 11, 2021 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Reds defeated the Brewers 3-1. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)

This offseason has already been a whirlwind for the Milwaukee Brewers. The past few months have featured major front office and managerial turnover, a record-breaking extension for their top prospect, and some noteworthy news in between.

More recently, the Brewers have been in the spotlight of some major offseason transactions. A couple weeks back, the Crew made a splash in free agency by adding Rhys Hoskins, whom was widely considered the top first baseman available.

This was a long-awaited upgrade by Milwaukee’s fanbase. For an organization that has been stingy with their spending as of late, it felt as if the signing was an indication that the team was preparing to make one last playoff push with their core of players in 2024.

More significantly, the signing felt like it poured cold water on the trade rumors that have been surrounding the club since the offseason began. The Brewers were making valuable moves to legitimately improve their roster, and it felt as if maybe their star players weren’t going to be available after all.

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Evidently, it didn’t take long for that sentiment to flip.

Mixed Messaging

Late last week, the Brewers followed up their big free agent acquisition by trading away their Cy Young pitcher, Corbin Burnes, to the Baltimore Orioles. In exchange for Burnes, Milwaukee received shortstop Joey Ortiz, left-handed pitcher D.L. Hall, and the 34th pick in the 2024 MLB draft.

Admittedly, the Brewers were in a predicament with Burnes’ future. On one hand, the NL Central appeared wide open heading into the 2024 season, and Burnes would obviously play a major role in the club defending their division title.

Given that their 2023 postseason ended in such disappointing fashion, there was an argument to be made for keeping Burnes, as this upcoming season would have been their last chance to make one final postseason run with this core of players.

At the same time, Burnes was one of the most coveted pitchers in the sport, and the clock was ticking on the Brewers’ opportunity to maximize his return. Being one of the smallest markets in Major League Baseball, it would have been extraordinarily detrimental for the future of the organization to risk losing Burnes for essentially nothing following the 2024 season.

To complicate things even more, any package received for Burnes was likely to appear light on the surface level given how dominant Burnes has been since 2021. He’s one of the best pitchers in the sport, so the act of trading him was going to signal that perhaps the Brewers were entering a rebuild.

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However, that is not necessarily the case.

This Corbin Burnes trade does not imply that the Brewers are rebuilding. Instead, they are flipping their biggest asset into two young, enticing players who can contribute for them from the get-go.

It’s debatable whether they got enough for one of the best starters in the game, but the deal should greatly benefit the Brewers in the long run. However, the mixed messaging from the front office makes the deal sting a little bit extra for Brewers fans.

What the Brewers Got in Return

In return for one year of Burnes’ services, the Brewers received 12 total years of control over two 25-year-old prospects whom the Brewers feel can make an immediate impact. The importance of that package for an organization like the Brewers cannot be overstated.

They’re a team who continuously focuses on retooling their assets in order to maintain long-term success, and this was another move that plays right into that philosophy.

The Brewers already have one of the best farm systems in baseball, and now they add two more skilled pieces who will contribute at the big league level right away. Both Joey Ortiz and D.L. Hall come with exciting tools, and they’re players who have the potential to be foundational pieces of this Brewers team for years to come.

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D.L. Hall – LHP

Starting with D.L. Hall, the 25-year-old southpaw has a wicked four-pitch arsenal that is highlighted by an outstanding fastball coupled with a devastating slider. The 2017 first round pick has some incredible stuff, but he has struggled mightily with command throughout his minor league career.

That said, it’s worth noting that in Hall’s 33 big league innings, he has an overall Location+ (a statistic that attempts to quantify a pitcher’s ability to locate his pitches accurately) of 105, according to FanGraphs. When looking into his individual pitches, Hall has Location+ numbers of 102 on his fastball, 106 on his slider, 112 on his curveball, and 107 on his changeup.

It’s a small sample size, but that’s an incredibly encouraging trend for a profile like Hall’s. He also has a Stuff+ (a statistic that only looks at the physical characteristics of a pitcher’s arsenal and attempts to quality how “nasty” a pitcher’s arsenal is) of 108 in his young big league career, including Stuff+ numbers of 108 on his fastball and 131 on his slider, according to FanGraphs.

Point being, Hall has an intriguing arsenal that the Brewers will be clamoring to develop. It’s worth mentioning that he was primarily used as a reliever in his time with the Orioles. The Brewers have already stated that they intend on using Hall as a starter out of the gate, so it will be interesting to track his performance as he gets acclimated to a starter’s workload at the big league level.

Hall’s potential as a great reliever gives him a high floor for the Brewers to work with, but his enticing pitch mix gives him a ceiling that can still be raised depending on how he develops as a starter. This Brewers starting rotation is heavily depleted heading into 2024, and that should give Hall ample opportunity to showcase his skillset this season and beyond.

Joey Ortiz – SS

Joey Ortiz slots in as the Brewers’ No. 6 prospect in their system following the move from Baltimore to Milwaukee. Ortiz has a player profile that the Brewers have gravitated towards in recent years. He’s a gifted defender with Gold Glove-level upside at shortstop, and he will provide above average contact rates with his bat.

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He’s a player who can post a low strikeout rate, walk at an average-to-above average rate, and get on base at a solid clip for this Brewers offense. Not to mention, he has shown flashes of raw power throughout his offensive development in the minors as well.

In 504 plate appearances with Triple-A Norfolk, Ortiz slashed .327/.383/.521 for an OPS over .900 and a 128 wRC+. His 44.7% ground ball rate was higher than you’d like to see with the Norfolk Tides, but there is still room for offensive growth at 25-years-old.

Both Ortiz and Hall have attributes that make them safe investments for the Brewers, but they each have exciting upside with potential to elevate their ceilings even higher. As mentioned, they’re two players who can make an impact from the get-go, and it gives the Brewers even more depth to work with for years to come.

What Moves Could be Next?

Now that the Brewers decided to move Burnes, what moves could be next for the Crew? They are sitting on a handful of valuable assets who could bring in strong returns, and the Burnes deal could be an indication that more trades could be on the horizon.

Willy Adames

Willy Adames has been rumored to be available since the beginning of the offseason, and Ortiz’s addition to the roster could make him even more expendable. The Brewers thought highly enough of Ortiz to make him the headliner in a trade package that involved Corbin Burnes, so it’s likely they plan to integrate him at his natural position right away.

If that’s the case, then Adames’ days in a Brewers uniform are clearly limited. He’s going to hit the open market at the end of the season, and he’s not in the long-term plans for the Brewers.

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Since he’s currently the top shortstop available if a team were looking for an upgrade at the position, it makes complete sense for the Brewers to flip him for another young talent.

It’s also possible that the Brewers hold onto Adames now while still having the ability to trade him at or before the trade deadline. If this is the case, then the Brewers could play Ortiz at third base to start the 2024 season while he waits his turn to take over the shortstop position.

However, if the Brewers receive an offer that seems reasonable, there’s nothing stopping them from shipping Adames now that they have a contingency plan at shortstop.

Devin Williams

Adames isn’t the only name who has been floated in trade talks. Devin Williams, the two-time Reliever of the Year and reigning Trevor Hoffman Award winner, could also be moved following Burnes’ departure.

Williams is one of, if not the best reliever in MLB, and he still has two years of team control remaining before he hits free agency after the 2025 season. Williams and the Brewers avoided arbitration this offseason and settled on a one-year, $7.25 million salary for 2024 to go along with a club option for $10.5 million in 2025.

For a player of William’s caliber, that’s a very team-friendly contract, which makes him even more appealing on the trade market.

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In 214 innings, Williams has a 1.89 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP throughout his five big league seasons. He’s also one of the best strikeout artists in baseball, as he sports the fourth-best strikeout rate (38.7%) and the fifth-best K/9 (14.02) among qualified relievers since the beginning of the 2021 season.

Combine Williams’ premier performance, his team-friendly contract, and the team control remaining on his deal, and the Brewers could easily flip Williams for a strong package to bolster their already-impressive farm system.

Closing Thoughts

When viewing the package that the Brewers received for Corbin Burnes from a long-term perspective, there’s a very strong chance the Brewers came away winners in this deal.

And yet, in the short-term, the deal remains a very tough pill to swallow for Milwaukee’s fanbase.

The Brewers brought Burnes through their system and developed him into the pitcher he is today. There were growing pains when he first cracked the big leagues, but now he is one of the top pitchers in the entire sport and a perpetual Cy Young contender.

Yet it feels as if the Brewers failed to capitalize on their time with Burnes anchoring the starting rotation. It feels as if they traded him without ever making a legitimate run at a World Series title when there was opportunity to do so. And it feels as if they shipped Burnes without giving it one final shot with him leading the way in the rotation.

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The Brewers’ inability to get over the hump in the postseason with Burnes at the helm will forever be a pain point for their fanbase. Regardless of how exciting the return was for their ace, and regardless of how bright the future may be for this ball club, the way the Corbin Burnes era ended in Milwaukee will leave a bitter taste in the mouths of Brewers fans for quite some time.