Baseball

Poll: Should The Brewers Trade Corbin Burnes?

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The Brewers have a ticking clock on their hands with Corbin Burnes. The right-hander has been excellent for them over the past four seasons but he’s now just one year away from free agency. They could have tried to sign him to an extension at some point but had not done so as of September of last year, per Burnes himself.

The pitcher recently expanded on the process in some comments with Fair Territory on November 17, as relayed by Adam McCalvy of MLB.com. “That was never something that we got to,” Burnes said when asked about extension talks. “Obviously, coming off the shortened season in 2020, having my first good year after signing [for] ‘21, I think for them it was, ‘Hey, wait and see if this was a one-off year,’ or if they thought this was something we could explore long-term.”

Burnes then goes on to explain that his continued success inflated his earning power so much that he was out of their price range and they didn’t want to bother insulting him with a lowball offer. This brought the two sides to the impasse where they currently find themselves. “I think a couple of years ago, I was open to going and getting something done, but I think at this point, both sides know that we’re a year away from free agency, and we want to see what the market can bring.”

As McCalvy lays out, that leaves the club with two distinct options. One is to hold onto Burnes and see what happens in 2024, which would still leave open the possibility of a midseason trade or receiving a compensation pick after extending a qualifying offer to Burnes. The other path is to trade him now.

The holding path certainly has its appeal. The club is the defending champion in the National League Central, after all. They will have to proceed without Brandon Woodruff, who was recently non-tendered in the wake of shoulder surgery. But he missed most of 2023 as well and the club still managed to thrive. Some other players also departed via free agency but the club could feasibly have a stronger outfield next year. Each of Garrett Mitchell, Sal Frelick and Tyrone Taylor were held back by injuries and could perhaps contribute more next year, joining Christian Yelich and Joey Wiemer in a strong outfield mix.

Then there’s Jackson Chourio, one of the top prospects in the sport, who reached Triple-A in 2023 and could debut in 2024. The club and Chourio are reportedly discussing an extension, which could perhaps increase his chances of being a factor in 2024. That could then lead to an outfield surplus, which could allow the club to perhaps bolster their team while holding Burnes.

The club could stand to find some upgrades on the infield and in the back of the rotation, but they could have some money to do so. Roster Resource estimates next year’s payroll at $101MM right now. Last year’s Opening Day figure was $119MM, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, while they were at $132MM in 2022.

But the downside of the holding option is quite apparent with the example of Woodruff. The unfortunate reality with pitchers is that injury can quickly sap them of their value, both in terms of on-field contributions and trade value. If anything unfortunate were to develop with Burnes in 2024, the club could regret not cashing in when they had the chance.

By all accounts, the demand for starting pitching is high this winter and not every club is going to be jazzed about the idea of committing hundreds of millions of dollars over many years in order to upgrade their staff. Burnes is projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz for an arbitration salary of $15.1MM next year, far cheaper than what top free agent arms will get, while also having the ability to recoup a compensatory draft pick at year’s end. Some club with a position player surplus but pitching needs may be willing to give up MLB-ready pieces to get Burnes, allowing Milwaukee to perhaps upgrade on the infield.

But the trade path isn’t easy either. The club is already going to be without Woodruff, so flipping Burnes would further weaken a rotation that has been such a strength for the club. With Wade Miley, Julio Teheran and Eric Lauer all free agents, a Milwaukee rotation without Burnes would consist of Freddy Peralta, Adrian Houser and Colin Rea, with options like Aaron Ashby, Bryse Wilson, Janson Junk and Robert Gasser also around. They could perhaps then use some of their funds to patch that over, but it’s obviously a better group with Burnes in it.

Looking at the broad picture, the division seems to be in a state of flux. The Cardinals are aggressively trying to put their miserable 2023 behind them, while the Cubs, Reds and Pirates are all coming out of their respective rebuilds at different speeds. With both Burnes and Willy Adames set for free agency a year from now, perhaps the Brewers should keep the gang together for one last heist, but doing so might hurt their chances of continuing to compete in 2025 and beyond.

What do you think? Should Burnes stay or go? Have your say in the poll below!

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