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Smash or Pass: Corbin Burnes

Can the Sox trade for the Brewers ace? Should they?

MLB: Wildcard-Arizona Diamondbacks at Milwaukee Brewers Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

Who is he and where does he come from?

He’s 29-year-old right-handed pitcher Corbin Burnes, and he’s currently under contract with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Is he any good?

Would I be writing about him if he wasn’t? Maybe, because I’m delusional and can convince myself that most pitchers have some utility. That’s not the case here though, Burnes is very good.

Burnes debuted for Milwaukee in 2018, pitching primarily out of the bullpen for his first two seasons. After a successful first year (2.61 ERA in 38 innings), he started the 2019 season in the rotation, made four starts, and was demoted to the bullpen. He finished 2019 with an ERA over eight.

Wait, I thought you said he was good?

He is, I’m trying to mix analysis with narrative. Be patient, you Neanderthals.

Burnes returned for the 2020 season as a new pitcher. He adapted his four-seamer, embracing the natural cut he was getting, turning it into a full-fledged cutter. He also upped his sinker usage to play off the cutter. He made 12 starts in 2020, and turned in a 2.11 ERA, finishing sixth in Cy Young voting. In 2021, he came back and threw even more cutters, making it his primary pitch. He dominated from wire-to-wire on the road to being named the NL Cy Young.

Ahh, so he’s a sure thing. Nothing could go wrong.

Well, I wouldn’t say that...

Oh, come ON. Get to the point already.

Burnes backed up his Cy Young campaign in 2022, posting a 2.94 ERA in 32 starts. He wasn’t quite as dominant, but if you’re complaining about a 2.94 ERA, you’re impossible to please. That brings us to 2023, where the trouble starts to creep in. For the first time in a few years, Burnes struggled to start the season. He tweaked his mechanics, and his command suffered as a result. Too often, his cutter found the middle of the plate. He had a hard time getting right-handed hitters out and finished the first half of the season with an ERA just below four.

In the second half of the season, Burnes made changes to his slider, adding horizontal movement in what we can only assume was an effort to keep righties off the pitch. It did wonders, and he began pitching like his old self.

This was all a very long way of saying yes, Burnes is very good. That’s not to say he’s a surefire, perennial Cy Young contender. While he improved in the second half, he saw his K% drop to 25.5%, his lowest mark since his rookie year. He’s a top-tier pitcher in the league right now, but he’s not infallible.

Tl;dr, just give me his 2023 stats.

32 Starts, 193.2 IP, 141 H, 66 BB, 200 SO, 3.39 ERA, 127 ERA+

Why would he be a good fit for the 2024 Red Sox?

He’s an ace-level talent. I don’t think there’s a team in the league that would turn him down. On top of that, he’s a workhorse. Despite early struggles and dealing with injuries, he still managed to average over six innings per start. For a team that averaged under five innings per start, a proven commodity like Burnes is a perfect fit.

Why would he not be a good fit for the 2024 Red Sox?

I can’t think of a good on-field reason to believe Burnes wouldn’t help the 2024 Red Sox. From an economic perspective, there are two reasons to make a deal for Burnes. First, you’re a contender looking for an arm to put you over the top. Second, you’re planning on extending him. He’s in the last year of his deal and just turned 29. For comparison, Gerrit Cole signed for nine years, $324 million at 29-years-old. Trading for and extending Burnes likely precludes the Red Sox from participating in the Yamamoto sweepstakes.

Is he available?

If this were his Facebook page, his relationship status would read, “It’s complicated”. He has just one year left, and given the Brewers’ spending tendencies, they’re not likely to shell out the cash to keep him, His relationship with the team has also soured through the arbitration process, although I’m sure $300 million would make that all water under the bridge.

The Brewers did just win 92 games and may want to keep Burnes at least through mid-July when they can reassess their playoff odds. They also lost Brandon Woodruff for the year, which would make them less willing to trade pitching. It could also make them more likely to trade pitching. If they’re really blowing it up, I’ll take Hoby Milner while they’re at it.

What will he cost?

I’m terrible at estimating these kinds of things, so I’ll defer to Bleacher Report. Their suggested trade is Jarren Duran and Nick Yorke, so I’ll go with that. He won’t be cheap but given his contract situation, it won’t completely mortgage the farm. I’d expect a highly-ranked prospect to move, but not the likes of Marcelo Mayer or Roman Anthony.

Show me a cool highlight.

Do you think his teammates got bored here? I mean they’re up by seven runs, and they’re just standing around watching Burnes mow down hitters. Other than mentally, they didn’t have to exert any effort. If I’m out in left field, I’m probably scanning the crowd and hoping the ball doesn’t come my way as I try to find the drunkest guy in the stands.

Smash or pass?

It’s impossible to answer this question without knowing what the chances of extending Burnes are. Without considering contracts and trade assets and other mumbo jumbo, I would smash so fast it would be embarrassing. He’s a top-five pitcher in the league. You don’t pass on that.