Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff have combined to strike out a remarkable 878 batters over the last two seasons. On their own, they’re two of the very best pitchers in the league. Together, they form a truly unstoppable force. The Brewers made the playoffs for four straight seasons before 2022, with Woodruff and Burnes as key reasons why.
Things could be different in 2023.
The Brewers have Aaron Ashby and Freddy Peralta under contract long-term, but Woodruff, Burnes and Eric Lauer will all become free agents following the 2024 season. It’s highly unlikely that Milwaukee will extend all three, with a good bet that they’ll retain only one. One can guess that one would be Burnes, the 2021 National League Cy Young winner.
So where does that leave Woodruff, Burnes’ partner in dismantling hitters?
Woodruff, 29, is exactly the type of pitcher many teams would covet. Since 2018, the 6-foot-4, 243-pound righty has posted a 3.06 ERA (137 ERA+) with an identical 3.06 FIP. Woodruff has notched three seasons in a row with an ERA of 3.05 or lower. He’s one of the best, most consistent starters in the league.
Since 2020, Woodruff ranks 16th in ERA (2.84), eighth in strikeouts (492) and eighth in b-Wins Above Replacement (10.4). Woodruff has been more valuable, by bWAR, than Gerrit Cole, Luis Castillo and Yu Darvish over the last three seasons. Woodruff is a bonafide No. 1 starter and is a luxury as the No. 2 in Milwaukee’s rotation.
It’s feasible that the Brewers decide to hang onto Woodruff and go for it again in 2023 and 2024. The team was close to the playoffs this season and can hope for improved health from Peralta and a better year from Christian Yelich. Per MLB Pipeline, the Brewers’ top six prospects are all position players. There’s real optimism for improved offense in the not-too-distant future.
That didn’t stop the Crew from trading Josh Hader, though, who was just over a year from free agency and expected to earn a considerable raise via arbitration. Woodruff’s situation could be similar with prominent, talented prospects waiting on the other end.
A rotation of Burnes, Peralta, Ashby, Lauer and Adrian Houser could be enough to compete again in 2023. The loss of Woodruff would sting but recent packages for Frankie Montas, Tyler Mahle and Luis Castillo provide a glimpse of what Milwaukee could get in return. If they’re not going to extend him, why not cash in now?
The Yankees dealt three of their top 10 prospects for Montas, while the Mariners parted with a significant package headlined by MLB Pipeline’s No. 17 prospect in Noelvi Marte for Castillo. The Twins acquired Tyler Mahle for two breakouts in Spencer Steer and Christian Encarnacion-Strand along with promising lefty Steve Hajjar.
On the flip side, Woodruff is a homegrown star in the midst of his prime. There’s little reason *not* to extend both Woodruff and Burnes, outside of the elevated price tags. As long as those two are in Brewers uniforms, the floor of the team will always be fairly high. It’s a unique and special pairing.
If the Brewers want to keep their co-aces together, they’ll likely need to get creative with the rest of the roster to stay within their self-imposed budget. A league-minimum, talented outfield of Garrett Mitchell, Joey Wiemer, and Sal Frelick could be a potential solution, as the team waits for Jackson Chourio to arrive too.
After a disappointing finish to 2022 and with only three players under guaranteed contracts for 2023, the Brewers have an interesting offseason ahead. Will they run it back and try to win again? Or will they decide to cash in and improve their farm system, with Woodruff a clear trade candidate?
What should the Brewers do with Woodruff? Trade, hold, or extend? Comment below!
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