As soon as the Baltimore Orioles’ 2023 season came to an end at the hands of the Texas Rangers in an ALDS sweep, the goal for GM Mike Elias was clear: Time to land a starting pitcher. Baltimore had just about everything else — established veterans, young, cost-controlled stars, arguably the deepest farm system in the sport. But, despite Kyle Bradish’s breakout and Grayson Rodriguez taking a step toward realizing his massive potential, the team’s rotation felt stretched, a rung below where it needed to be in order to reach serious World Series contention.
But as weeks and then months went by, Elias was content to keep his powder dry. Those prospects stuck around, the team’s only major foray into free agency a one-year, $13 million deal for Craig Kimbrel. The Orioles seemed doomed to head into spring training 2024 the same way they ended October 2023 — plenty of talent and potential, but just short of what’s needed to compete at the very upper echelons of the sport. (Especially after the winter the Dodgers just had.)
And then, just as everybody had started to let their Hot Stove guard down, Baltimore struck: On Thursday night, the team agreed to a blockbuster deal for Brewers ace Corbin Burnes, sending Minor Leaguers Joey Ortiz and DL Hall along with a 2024 draft pick back to Milwaukee. The Orioles finally landed their ace — and became the team to beat in the AL in the process.
Sure, the Rangers hold the belt until someone takes it from them, and their lineup had no problem wearing out Baltimore pitching last fall. And the Yankees have made several splashes of their own this offseason, Juan Soto especially. But top to bottom, the O’s now profile as a better, more complete team. Texas will be as deep, if not deeper, offensively, but their rotation is a bit of a mess right now, with Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and free-agent acquisition Tyler Mahle all expected to miss a good chunk of 2024 and Nathan Eovaldi carrying plenty of injury risk himself. And speaking of injury risk: Soto or no, New York is yet again an untimely injury to Aaron Judge, Carlos Rodon and Nestor Cortes from discovering just how old and thin their roster really is.
The Orioles, meanwhile, don’t have any flaws that you could really describe as glaring. Yes, missing star closer Felix Bautista will hurt, and Craig Kimbrel is a less-than-ideal replacement. But Baltimore has a pretty good track record when it comes to manufacturing competent bullpens, and this is the sort of problem that can most easily be solved at the trade deadline — when the O’s will have more ammunition than anyone else to get a deal done. The Orioles have an offense that will be able to bang with the best of them, and with Burnes joining Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez and John Means in the rotation, all of a sudden their starting pitching has the fewest question marks of any of their fellow contenders. Burnes wasn’t quite his Cy Young self in 2023 — his velocity and K rate were down and his walk rate was up — but he’s still a true workhorse, with a deep and varied arsenal that makes him tough for righties and lefties alike. If you were to rank each AL team by how many questions they have to answer in order to reach the World Series, the Orioles would undoubtedly be at the top — and yet they’re still, per DraftKings Sportsbook, at +1400 to win it all in 2024, just the fourth-shortest odds in the AL.
2024 World Series odds: Where do the Orioles fall after Corbin Burnes trade?
Blue Jays +2200
Red Sox +4000
White Sox +20000
Maybe they’re still a year away, maybe their youngsters aren’t ready, maybe Burnes’ downward trends become more of a problem. But right now, Baltimore feels like they’re deserving of more respect, a roster that’s deep and balanced and will return to the postseason having seen championship baseball up close and personal in 2023.