The Orioles completed one of the offseason’s biggest trades in landing Corbin Burnes from the Brewers earlier this week, and it was a move that GM Mike Elias said the organization had been “talking about…since when the World Series ended.” It was heavily expected that the O’s would be looking for significant rotation help during the winter, and Elias shared some details on the search when speaking with reporters (including MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko and MLB.com’s Jake Rill) on a conference call in the aftermath of the trade.
“Corbin Burnes is exactly what we needed. We were in a dogged pursuit of him the entire offseason,” Elias said. “Obviously, there were other starting pitchers who we pursued, but it’s harder to have somebody higher than Corbin Burnes on your wish list. It’s a tremendous impact.”
Milwaukee’s side of the deal involved two big league-ready young players (Joey Ortiz and DL Hall) with top-100 prospect pedigrees, as well as the Orioles’ Competitive Balance Round draft pick (currently 34th overall in the 2024 draft order). It was a noteworthy amount to give up even for a team as rich in minor league depth as the O’s, but Elias felt it was worth the plunge.
“We’re giving up a lot of long-term talent and also a couple of players that were going to contribute to the 2024 Orioles,” Elias said. “So I mean, this is a risky move, but it lined up for both sides. We weren’t going to force it necessarily, but our wish list was a rotation upgrade and I certainly think that the Cy Young winner and with his body of work qualifies as that. We couldn’t have found a better upgrade and now we just have to go play the games.”
While the Orioles’ offer was enough to sway the Brewers, it apparently wasn’t enough to get the White Sox to move Dylan Cease, another pitcher known to be on Baltimore’s list of potential targets. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports that the O’s “offered basically the same package” to White Sox, as well as an unknown additional player. The larger size of the offer probably reflects the fact that Cease is arbitration-controlled through the 2025 season while Burnes is only controlled through 2024, yet it still wasn’t enough to meet Chicago’s asking price for Cease’s services.
Past reports have suggested that the Sox have a particular interest in Jordan Westburg, Heston Kjerstad and Colton Cowser, among many of Baltimore’s top prospects. It can be assumed that none of these blue-chippers weren’t the mystery fourth part of the Orioles’ offer to Chicago, so speculatively, it could be that the White Sox asked for one of the trio as the top position-player piece instead of Ortiz. Considering that the Sox have reportedly been looking for additional pitching in other Cease-related trade talks with the Mariners and Reds, it could also be that the White Sox wanted a better pitcher included than Hall, or perhaps a pitcher as the fourth element if the Orioles had offered a position player.
These talks are again indicative of the very large price tag that the White Sox are demanding for Cease, which isn’t really surprising given how he is their biggest trade asset apart from Luis Robert. It also understandable why the Orioles ultimately pivoted from these talks with Chicago to closing the deal on Burnes, as Burnes provides a higher ceiling as a more consistent ace-level pitcher even if he comes with one less year of control than Cease.
Obviously some of this discussion is just conjecture since we don’t know exactly what the Orioles put on the table for Cease, yet it also speaks to the interesting juggling act Elias has been facing in determining how to put the best “final touch” on the AL East-winning roster. It can be assumed that pretty much every rival team has been asking about the top tier of names in Baltimore’s farm system in any trade talks, so Elias technically has the minor league depth to complete just about any deal, he naturally isn’t going to deplete that depth for just any pitcher.
Speaking of Kjerstad and Cowser, it wouldn’t be surprising to see either youngster play big roles in whatever success awaits the 2024 Orioles, though they’re part of a crowded outfield, first base, and DH picture that also includes Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander, Austin Hays, Ryan Mountcastle, Ryan O’Hearn, and even more up-and-coming prospects in Coby Mayo and Kyle Stowers, among others. Even with all these options on hand, Nightengale reports that the O’s still had interest in bringing back Aaron Hicks before the veteran outfielder signed with the Angels earlier this week.
After an injury-plagued stint with the Yankees, Hicks revived his career after joining the Orioles last season, hitting .275/.381/.425 over 236 PA and acting as a veteran leader within the young clubhouse. Since the Yankees are still covering Hicks’ previous contract through the 2025 season, the outfielder was available on only a minimum MLB salary to any team this winter, giving him presumably a pretty wide range of suitors.
Though the Orioles are in a better position to contend than the Angels in 2024, it could be that Hicks simply felt he wouldn’t get as much playing time in Baltimore than he would in Los Angeles. Though the Angels have a fair amount of outfield options themselves, Mike Trout’s injury history and the unproven big league track records of Mickey Moniak and Jo Adell leave more room for Hicks to become a lineup regular.