After Sonny Gray signed with the St. Louis Cardinals to spread his wings for the next three years, the Minnesota Twins must find a way to fill the enormous shoes he left atop their rotation. It appears unlikely that they will pursue any of the other high-end pitchers on the free-agent market because it would also be a major budgetary commitment during a time of financial uncertainty based on their unresolved TV deal.
So unless Minnesota’s decision-makers are convinced that somebody internally will take a career-defining leap, that leaves the trade route as the only realistic possibility to fill the need for a top-of-the-rotation starter in 2024. And Corbin Burnes, the last ace remaining in the Milwaukee Brewers rotation, is one of the most often-mentioned names on that front.
Not only would the three-time all-star be an immediate boost to Minnesota’s starting staff, but he fits the mold for trades the team has completed in the last few years. Like Gray and Pablo López, Burnes has limited club control remaining (in this case, just one season), which should make his price more reasonable than some other high-end trade candidates. Of course, that doesn’t mean he’ll come at a bargain. Gray and López each cost a pretty penny to get them in a Twins uniform. Gray cost them a first-round draft pick from the year prior (Chase Petty), and they had to trade a beloved perennial batting championship contender in his early 20s (Luis Arraez) for López.
But despite those lofty prices at the time, the Twins ultimately accomplished their goal of getting a coveted pitcher into their system. Afterward, they could invest further with an extension or hit them with a qualifying offer before departing. Burnes can accomplish that same MO, but the club must figure out how much they are willing to give up. Can the Twins use their logjam of young sluggers and prospects to find the right balance in a swap?
From a numbers perspective, Burnes is one of the premier arms in the game today. Over the last four seasons, he has a combined 2.86 ERA with 11.0 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 across 622⅓ innings pitched. He finished in the top eight in Cy Young voting in each campaign and took that trophy home in 2021. That type of production won’t come cheap.
There are many moving pieces with a potential Burnes trade, especially in comparison to Gray and López. While the club got two seasons out of the former and a long-term extension out of the latter, Burnes would almost certainly be a one-year rental. “I think a couple of years ago, I was open to going and getting something done,” he said last month. “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.”
So, with that in mind, what could a return package look like if the Twins want to get their hands on the burly right-hander? It would have to be reasonable enough to allow them to keep their franchise cornerstones (Royce Lewis, Walker Jenkins, Brooks Lee, and possibly Joe Ryan). However, it would have to be big enough that it outbids the other teams that are sure to want Burnes’ services for themselves.
The Brewers are playing their cards close to their vest, so it’s hard to know what they would be seeking in a deal. But if we use this week’s Juan Soto trade as a blueprint for the going rate for one year of superstar talent, it at least gets us in the realm of expectations.
For those who missed it, the San Diego Padres dealt Soto to the New York Yankees with Trent Grisham. In return, they got established big-leaguers Michael King (2.75 ERA across 104 ⅔ innings pitched in 2023) and Kyle Higashioka (1.7 fWAR). The Yankees also included top-10 organizational prospects Drew Thorpe, Randy Vasquez, and Jhony Brito.
That’s a pitching-heavy package that features MLB-ready talent and a collection of promising minor leaguers who have either already debuted in the big leagues or are approaching that point soon. And while Soto and Burnes are vastly different situations in many aspects, that type of package would be a reasonable ask for Milwaukee if they dealt their ace.
The Twins don’t have a perfectly parallel collection of pieces they could offer. However, they have a good mix of advanced-level prospects and young major leaguers that could make for an interesting sum.
In terms of headliners in the same ilk as King and Thorpe in the Soto swap, would the Twins be willing to include someone like Matt Wallner, who impressed as a rookie this year? Or how about a promising young MLB arm with four years of club control in Bailey Ober? Not only that, but they might have to throw in some high-minors prospects like David Festa, Austin Martin, Simeon Woods Richardson, and even another high-caliber youngster that is still a ways away. That might be someone like Charlee Soto, Luke Keaschall, or Brandon Winokur.
That’s a wide range of options that could be used in a package for Burnes. And whatever the asking price ends up being, whether the Twins meet it or not, it will sting. That’s the point. You know what every team would love to get their hands on? An ace-caliber starting pitcher who has been an All-Star for the last three years. Every team wants that.
If the Twins want to be the team that lands Burnes in a trade, as they did with López and Gray, they will have to make a Soto-like offer to get it done.