After a sleepy few weeks, the Hot Stove came roaring back to life on Thursday night, as the Baltimore Orioles sent Minor League infielder Joey Ortiz and lefty DL Hall to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for ace righty Corbin Burnes in a blockbuster deal. It’s a move that obviously carries plenty of real-life implications, the O’s finally getting serious about investing around their young core while the Brewers are seemingly caught between contention and a rebuild.
But we’re not here to talk about real-life baseball; there’s plenty of time for that later. We’re here, instead, to talk fantasy — and there’s plenty to sort through in a deal involving a starter currently coming off the board in the first two rounds of 2024 drafts. What does this mean for Burnes’ short- and long-term outlook? And who are the other winners and losers from this deal? Let’s break it all down.
Fantasy takeaways after Corbin Burnes trade
Stock up for Burnes
Granted, there’s only so much room to grow given Burnes’ current ADP, but this change of scenery could be enough to edge him above the likes of Zack Wheeler and Kevin Gausman — making him the clear-cut SP3 behind Spencer Strider and Gerrit Cole. Start with the team context: Burnes goes from a fringe NL Wild Card contender with an uneven offense to an Orioles team that should now be considered the early AL favorites. Baltimore’s lineup quite literally has more talent than it knows what to do with, and that’s not even counting the impending promotion of No. 1 overall prospect Jackson Holliday. Burnes only had 10 wins to show for his 3.39 ERA last season, and Baltimore figures to improve the outlook there considerably.
They also offer a far kinder home environment. Since moving the left-field fence back two years ago, Camden Yards has become among the most pitcher-friendly home parks in the league. Milwaukee’s American Family Field, meanwhile, is on the opposite end of that spectrum — Burnes posted a 4.28 ERA there in 2023, and has a home ERA about 75 points higher than his road mark for his career. Granted, the AL East means plenty of treacherous road trips to Boston and New York, but overall this should mean good things for Burnes’ run prevention in this season.
Those factors should more than allay any concerns about Burnes’ alleged step back last year — the righty’s 3.39 ERA and 3.81 FIP were both substantial increases from his 2021 and 2022 marks, and came with a dip in velocity and K rate and a spike in walk rate. That decline requires some context, though. Burnes had a bumpy first half last year, with his trademark cutter down a full mph on the radar gun. But he got that velocity back as the season went on, and he was his vintage self down the stretch, delivering a 2.71 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 10.2 K/9 in the second half. Even if he’s a half-notch below his Cy Young form, there’s still every reason to think he’ll be an elite fantasy option in 2024, a unique blend of upside and innings.
Sorting through Brewers’ infield logjam
Now the fun really begins. Milwaukee’s infield depth chart was going to be tough to sort out even before they added a top-100 prospect in Ortiz. Incumbent shortstop Willy Adames has just one year of team control remaining and has himself been the subject of trade speculation. Brice Turang and Andruw Monasterio — last year’s primary options at second and third base, respectively — are back, but both come with real questions about whether they can hit at the MLB level. And then there’s Tyler Black, currently MLB Pipeline’s No. 46 prospect, banging down the door after lighting up Triple-A in 2023. What are fantasy owners supposed to make of this?
On paper, the biggest draw would seem to be Black, who pairs an excellent hit tool with plus-plus speed (he stole 55 bases across Double- and Triple-A last season). Defensively, he’s limited to third base only, where he’s nominally blocked by Monasterio. But Monasterio’s light bat and defensive versatility profiles better in a bench/utility role; he became the team’s everyday third baseman last year mostly out of necessity. Black got 173 plate appearances at Triple-A under his belt in 2023, and if he performs well this spring, it’s not hard to see Milwaukee handing him the starting job out of camp — or very soon after.
To the extent that it blocks Black’s path to regular playing time, the acquisition of Ortiz would seem to be a fantasy drag. But there should be room for both here: One of Ortiz’s calling cards is his glove, which would be put to far better use at one of the middle infield spots rather than the hot corner. If there’s someone whose job Ortiz is coming for, it’s probably Turang, a former top prospect himself who’s yet to show that he can hit enough to make use of his impressive athleticism. Milwaukee could very well look to move Adames and hand the shortstop job to Ortiz, but even if they don’t, it’s unlikely that Turang’s able to hold him off for very long unless he drastically improves on last year’s woeful .218/.285/.300 slash line.
Sure, Ortiz wasn’t much better over 34 scattered plate appearances in the Majors in 2023, but he hit .321 with an .885 OPS at Triple-A last year after hitting .284 with an .826 OPS in the Minors two years ago. It’s a better real-life than fantasy profile, given that he’s not particularly aggressive on the bases and has a swing geared far more for contact than power (though his 90 mph average exit velocity and 114.9 max exit velocity at Triple-A are both elite, suggesting there’s more upside here than meets the eye). But he could very easily wind up with double-digit homers and steals, with enough average to push him toward the top of Milwaukee’s order, making him worthy of some late-round looks in deeper leagues.
Keep an eye on Milwaukee’s rotation
Things are pretty barren behind Freddy Peralta right now, with Burnes off to Baltimore and Brandon Woodruff out for most if not all of 2024 due to shoulder surgery. But a sketchy depth chart also means opportunity, and Milwaukee has plenty of intriguing names who could step into that void and deliver some sneaky fantasy value.
We’ll start with Hall, a one-time top prospect with ridiculous stuff but persistently glaring command issues. Those issues got him shifted to the bullpen in Baltimore last season, but he shined in a multi-inning relief role, with a 3.26 ERA and 10.7 K/9. There’s no questioning the lefty’s potential: His fastball simply explodes out of his hand, and his slider and changeup aren’t too far behind either. The question is whether he can ever harness it enough to stick in a rotation, and the fact that the Brewers wanted him as part of a package for Burnes suggests that they believe the answer is yes. His role is still up in the air, but Milwaukee should give him every chance to succeed as a big-league starter — and if it all clicks, his ceiling is as high as just about anybody.
So, DL Hall.— Curt Hogg (@CyrtHogg) February 2, 2024
Super intriguing pitch mix. Been a prospect mainstay for his plus stuff. Fastball is elite, slider could be, but was hit hard in '23. Going to be a fascinating watch in the Brewers' PD system. How the Brewers ultimately fare in the trade hinges on Hall, imo. pic.twitter.com/q9OJ42EGbq
Hall isn’t the only one to watch here, though — heck, he’s not even the only post-hype lefty to watch here. Aaron Ashby showed signs of breaking out in 2022, with a 4.44 ERA and a 10.6 K/9 across 27 appearances (19 starts). He had his 2023 season shirt-circuited due to shoulder trouble, but his rehab appears to be progressing well, and if he hits the ground running in spring training, a rotation spot could be his. When Ashby is right, he pairs elite strikeout numbers with elite ground-ball numbers, a very powerful combination; keep him on your watch list for now, but be ready to pounce if reports are positive in a few weeks.
Finally, there’s Robert Gasser, a former Padres prospect who came over in the Josh Hader deal and has yet to make his big-league debut. We highlighted the lefty a couple times last season, while he was busy putting up some eye-popping strikeout numbers in Triple-A. The lefty won’t light up any radar guns, but he has a solid three-pitch mix with his fastball, changeup and big, sweeping slider all grading out as at least average to above-average — and a funky low arm slot keeps hitters (especially lefties) from seeing it very well.
Big league stuff and big league command from Robert Gasser tonight. 6.1 innings, 1 run, 9 strikeouts, 0 walks. His curveball was excellent.— Curt Hogg (@CyrtHogg) June 25, 2023
Gasser has settled into a groove in Nashville: 2.10 ERA with 36 strikeouts to just four walks over his last five starts. pic.twitter.com/Fj2v5lBPhT
Of course, that velocity problem could come back to haunt him against the best hitters in the world, and he’s had some platoon issues in the upper Minors. But his sweeper is truly outrageous, and should give him a chance to compete for a starting spot with the big club this spring. There might not be a ton of upside here given that his arsenal may not work as well in the Majors, but consider him a name to know — Milwaukee really doesn’t have a ton of other options right now.