Heading into the offseason, the trade market contained a handful of veteran starters who were a year from free agency and widely expected to be available — Tyler Glasnow, Shane Bieber and perhaps Corbin Burnes chief among them. Glasnow has already changed hands, going from Tampa Bay to Los Angeles and signing an extension — which the two parties agreed upon as a contingency of the trade becoming official. Bieber is still with the Guardians. But as earlier this month, like Glasnow, he was reportedly open to discussing a long-term deal following a trade.
Fans of rival clubs may be eyeing Burnes and envisioning a similar outcome, but the right-hander himself effectively quashed any such hopes in an appearance with Erik Kratz, A.J. Pierzynski and Hannah Keyser on Foul Territory (video link). Asked by Kratz about the possibility of taking the same path Glasnow did, Burnes replied:
“Being in my shoes, being a year away from [free agency], I think if a trade-and-extension type of deal came up — obviously, every guy that gets this close to free agency wants to test the market to see what your true dollar amount is, see what teams really are in on you. It would have to be something that would just absolutely blow you away to get you away from testing the free agent market and being able to choose where you want to go. I think that’s one thing every player in their career wants to get to. Once you get that six years of service time — which for a lot of guys takes seven, eight, sometimes nine years to get to — you get that chance to test the market and see what your top dollar is.”
Burnes, of course, is speaking in generalities. The majority of players ostensibly share his sentiment, but Glasnow has now twice signed an extension in lieu of reaching free agency, and we’ve seen plenty of players over the years hammer out a long-term deal when they’re less than a calendar year from reaching the market. It’s rarer, although hardly unprecedented, with an expected top-of-the-market free agent. Rafael Devers, Stephen Strasburg and Xander Bogaerts are just a few examples of prominent, All-Star-caliber talents signing an extension after reaching five years of big league service.
Still, Burnes’ comments seemingly align with most star-level players and shouldn’t be taken as a surprise. That’s particularly true given that he’s a client of the Boras Corporation, whose players tend to gravitate toward free agency. (Although, again, that’s a generality and perhaps even an overstated one; Strasburg, Bogaerts, Jose Altuve, Carlos Gonzalez and others have all signed extensions under Boras.)
In his latest notes column at The Athletic, Ken Rosenthal reports that Brewers owner Mark Attanasio is still uncertain about how to proceed with Burnes and is wary of creating a similar backlash to the 2022 trade deadline deal that sent Josh Hader to San Diego. That doesn’t preclude a trade from ultimately coming together, but it’s a starkly different tone from the circumstances surrounding Glasnow, where a trade felt like an inevitability as the offseason wore on.
If the Brewers opt to hold onto Burnes, they can head into the 2024 season with him, Freddy Peralta, the recently re-signed Wade Miley and Adrian Houser in the top four spots of the rotation. Colin Rea, free-agent signee Joe Ross and prospect Robert Gasser (acquired in the aforementioned Hader deal) are among the other in-house candidates for rotation spots, and further additions via free agency or trade can’t be squarely ruled out. The lineup would need clear augmentation, but Milwaukee’s pitching would again have the makings of a solid group with Burnes and Peralta leading the rotation and Devin Williams anchoring the bullpen.
Should Milwaukee hold onto Burnes and fail to contend even in a thin National League Central division, Burnes would obviously hold immense appeal at the trade deadline. And, if they ride out the year with Burnes atop a contending rotation, they could at least extend a qualifying offer and recoup a draft pick after the first round in 2025. It’s a relatively small consolation prize for a former Cy Young winner, but that compensation still factors in when listening to any trade offers that come their way.
Holding onto any impending free agent/trade candidate comes with the risk of said player incurring an injury that tanks their value. Burnes, however, is so talented that anything short of a major surgery that would jeopardize his 2025 availability makes a QO a no-brainer. Over the past four seasons, he’s pitched 622 1/3 innings with aa 2.86 ERA, 30.9% strikeout rate and 7.1% walk rate. Burnes has made three consecutive All-Star teams and won the National League Cy Young Award in 2021. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projects him to earn $15.1MM in 2024 before he becomes a free agent next winter.