There has been talk all off-season that the New York Yankees are trying to unload right handed pitcher A.J. Burnett. Recently, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported that the Yankees were still trying to deal Burnett so that they could add additional payroll flexibility to retain Eric Chavez and one of Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, or Raul Ibanez.
MLB Trade Rumors looked at the possible fits for Burnett earlier today, and the Pittsburgh Pirates were one of the four teams mentioned. We’ve heard the two sides linked on Burnett talks from earlier this off-season when the Pirates expressed interest in Burnett.
Burnett is owed $16.5 M a year over the next two years, and the Yankees are certainly going to have to pick up a large part of that salary in order to unload him. MLBTR speculated today that the Yankees might have to eat all but $8-10 M of Burnett’s salary.
Burnett can block a trade to ten teams, but Ken Rosenthal reports that the Pirates aren’t one of those teams. Rosenthal was the one who originally reported the talks between the two clubs.
Buster Olney came up with an interesting idea earlier today about a Garrett Jones for Burnett swap, with New York picking up 90 percent of Burnett’s salary. That scenario would put Burnett at about $1.5 M owed per year, and would fill New York’s need for a left handed bench bat.
The big question in all of this is whether Burnett is worth anything. Regardless of how much of the $33 M the Yankees pick up, the Pirates would still be spending money on a pitcher. Would that pitcher be worth the price, and would Burnett upgrade the current rotation?
Burnett has been a 1.5 WAR pitcher the last two years, mostly due to his innings. The results in those innings haven’t been strong, with a combined 5.20 ERA. His secondary numbers haven’t been bad, with a 7.6 K/9, a 3.8 BB/9, and a 1.3 HR/9. His advanced stats suggest he should have been better, with a 4.49 xFIP in 2010 and a 3.86 xFIP in 2011.
The 6′ 4″ right hander turned 35 last month, so there would be concerns that his last two years were the beginning of the end of his career, which has spanned for parts of 13 seasons.
Some might suggest that the results were due to the new Yankee stadium and playing in the AL East. Burnett never had a problem playing in the AL East with Toronto, where he had a 3.94 ERA over three years. He also has a career 4.14 ERA in 299.2 innings at new Yankees Stadium, so that doesn’t seem to be the issue.
Then there’s the “a move to the National League could help” theory. Burnett pitched in the National League for seven years with the Marlins, putting up a 3.73 ERA in 853.2 innings. But he last pitched in the National League at the age of 28. He did have good results last year in interleague play, with a 3.96 ERA in 25 innings. That wasn’t necessarily the case the year before, when he had a 16.55 ERA in 10.1 innings. Neither would be a good sample size to go on.
The Pirates are looking to enter the 2012 season with a rotation of Erik Bedard, Charlie Morton, James McDonald, Jeff Karstens, and Kevin Correia. Burnett would be an upgrade over Correia, and his 190+ innings would be a good boost to a rotation that doesn’t feature any innings eaters. But how much do you pay for an upgrade over your fifth starter?
Burnett could have some upside, depending on whether you think a move to the National League could help, or whether you believe his advanced metrics are legit. He also has some red flags — age and horrible numbers the last two years — which would make teams less inclined to take a gamble on him. If the Pirates could get him with New York paying 90% of his salary, as Olney proposed, then it might not be that bad of a move, as the potential reward would outweigh the risk.