We’ve heard a lot of rumors surrounding A.J. Burnett the last few days, and the latest rumors to come out suggest that the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Yankees are debating over how much money each team should pick up. The latest has the Pirates agreeing to pick up $10 M, with the Yankees wanting the Pirates to pick up closer to half of the $33 M owed to Burnett. There’s also been talk that the Pirates are looking at other pitchers on the market.
The Pirates are in a good position here. There’s several teams looking to unload pitchers with high salaries, and the Pirates are one of the few teams with room to take on salary. That doesn’t help the Yankees in their attempt to get the Pirates to pay more for Burnett, since the Pirates could turn to someone like John Lannan or Joe Blanton if Burnett’s price was too high. Here is a rundown of each high priced player who is on the block, what they are owed, and what the Pirates would be getting with each player.
A.J. Burnett – 2 years / $33 M
Burnett seems to be the top target for the Pirates. The Yankees owe him $33 M over the next two years, and would have to pick up most of that salary for a deal to work. Currently the teams are haggling over that amount, with the Pirates agreeing to pick up $10 M, and the Yankees wanting closer to half.
Burnett has struggle the last two years, with an ERA over 5.00. He has racked up a lot of innings, and his secondary numbers are strong. The 35 year old right hander is coming off a year where he pitched 190.1 innings, with an 8.2 K/9, a 3.9 BB/9, and a 1.5 HR/9 ratio. His xFIP was 3.86, which is over a run lower than his actual ERA of 5.15.
In all of the talk about Burnett, there hasn’t been much discussion about other teams being involved in the bidding. The Yankees seem desperate to unload Burnett, and the Pirates seem like the only team interested in taking him on. The fact that there are other pitchers on the market only works in the Pirates’ favor.
John Lannan – 1 year / $5 M and Arb Eligible in 2013
I talked about Lannan last week after Edwin Jackson signed with Washington. He’d be a good fit for PNC Park, due to being a left handed pitcher with extreme ground ball ratios. The Nationals are trying to unload his salary after the off-season additions of Jackson and Gio Gonzalez.
One issue with Lannan is that his advanced metrics are usually lower than his actual ERA. He finished the 2011 season with a 3.70 ERA in 184.2 innings, although his xFIP was 4.24. That was the third time in four years that he not only finished a season with an ERA below his xFIP, but where he also pitched over 180 innings and had an ERA below 4.00.
Lannan doesn’t strike out a lot of batters. His 5.17 K/9 ratio in 2011 was the second highest of his career. He had a 3.7 BB/9 ratio, which doesn’t go well with the low strikeout totals. Burnett is a guy who could dominate a game with a lot of strikeouts, even though he hasn’t exactly dominated the last few years. Lannan relies more on his defense. Both are innings eaters. The advanced metrics point to Burnett being the best bet for a sub-4.00 ERA, but I think it’s significant that Lannan has proved the advanced metrics wrong three out of the last four years.
Joe Blanton – 1 year / $8.5 M
The Phillies are trying to avoid paying luxury tax, and they’re trying to unload Joe Blanton’s $8.5 M to do so. Blanton missed most of the season last year with right elbow inflammation, so it will be hard for the Phillies to make a deal. Jayson Stark mentions that the Pirates have shown interest in the 31 year old right hander.
Blanton didn’t put up the best numbers in 2010 when he pitched 175.2 innings with a 4.82 ERA. He strikes out a decent amount of batters, but no where near Burnett’s range. His xFIP has been much lower than his ERA the last two years, including a 3.15 xFIP vs a 5.01 ERA in 2011, and a 3.87 xFIP vs a 4.82 xFIP in 2010.
Blanton wouldn’t be an answer for the Pirates. He’d be a good backup plan to add to the pitching staff, but more as a luxury than a need. If he came cheap — something in the $2-3 M range — he would be a good backup for the rotation, able to step in if anyone went down with an injury (or when, if we’re talking about Erik Bedard).