Burnes, 29, put together a strong season in 2023 with a 3.39 ERA in 193 2/3 trips to the plate. That performance earned him a third consecutive All Star appearance and and eighth-place finish in NL Cy Young award voting, his fourth consecutive season placing in the top eight or higher. That being said, the 2023 campaign did see Burnes take some small steps back as well. Though he punched out 200 batters for the third straight season, the right-hander’s 25.5% strikeout rate was the lowest of his career since a 38-inning cup of coffee out of the Milwaukee bullpen back in 2018. Meanwhile, Burnes allowed free passes at an 8.4% clip after entering the season with a career 6.7% walk rate.
Despite those concerns, Burnes was nonetheless among the best pitchers in the league last season, with a 3.4 fWAR that ranked 19th among qualified starters last season alongside the likes of Luis Castillo and Kodai Senga. That earned Burnes a salary slightly above the $15.1MM projection put forth by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz back in October. It’s perhaps particularly noteworthy for Burnes and the Brewers to agree to a deal rather than head to an arbitration hearing given the right-hander’s comments last February on the heels of his loss in a hearing against the club regarding his 2023 salary, where the sides were apart by just $750K. Given the contentious hearing the sides went through last year, it’s hardly surprising that both sides would prefer to avoid a similar situation this winter, Burnes’s final before hitting free agency next offseason.
Burnes has been the subject of plenty of trade rumors this offseason. While that’s hardly a surprise given his contractual status and Milwaukee’s decision to non-tender co-ace Brandon Woodruff earlier this winter, comments from GM Matt Arnold have indicated that the Brewers still plan on Burnes taking the ball for the club on Opening Day. That, of course, could change as the offseason continues to progress. It’s worth noting that, whether or not Burnes ends up traded before the season begins, he’s publicly made clear that he’s unlikely to sign an extension this winter and looks forward to hitting the open market come November. In the meantime, however, the right-hander projects at the front of a Brewers rotation that also features Freddy Peralta, Wade Miley, Colin Rea, and Joe Ross.