Good Luck Shopping A.J. Burnett, Yanks

As pointed out by MLB Trade Rumors, Joel Sherman mentioned in an article this morning that the Yankees are attempting to trade A.J. Burnett in order to free up some roster flexibility. As he spells out:

They know no team will take all of Burnett’s remaining two years at $33 million. But if they could save, say, $4 million this year and next year, it would provide some wiggle room to finish off their roster heading into spring training. (Sherman, NY Post)

The Yankees would like to sign two more players in order to round out their bench, but according to Sherman, only have about $2 million in wiggle room at the moment. Ignoring the whole “The Yankees actually have a budget?” thing, what are the odds the Yankees actually manage to deal Burnett? And should teams actually want him, even if it’s at a discount?

Normally, I would expect there to be some team out there interested in adding Burnett for a couple million dollars. He may have posted a 5+ ERA last season and allowed 31 home runs, but there are a number of reasons to still be bullish on Burnett. His strikeout and swinging strike rates both increased last season, and his poor performance was due to a freakish 17% home run/flyball rate. His curveball resulted in a whiff 40% of the time that a batter swung at it (thanks Brooks Baseball!), so it’s not as though his “stuff” was any less potent. Burnett is homer-prone, but that home run rate is bound to improve.

Burnett may be turning 35 this season, but with some home run regression (and a more pitcher-friendly stadium, mayhap), he could be a valuable +2 to +3 win pitcher — easily worth $8 million over two years. Even if you are more pessimistic about Burnett’s chances to rebound, he’s been a +1.5 win pitcher in recent years. He would still be a small bargain at $4 million/season, but not by much.

But right now, why would a team bother trading for Burnett when they could sign Roy Oswalt for a similar salary? In one instance, a team would have to pay the player and give up an asset (even if it’s a lesser prospect), while in the other, they only have to shell out money. Oswalt may be older and come with his share of injury concerns, but he’s also been a considerably more valuable pitcher than Burnett in recent years. Considering that teams are being hesitant to add payroll in order to sign Oswalt, I see little chance of Burnett actually being dealt.

For Yankees fans, this may be a good thing. When you consider the trade-off, what would you rather have: a slightly better bench, or a starter with the potential to be worth +2 to +3 wins? Depth is important, but I’ll take the starter every time.

It’s possible that the Yankees have reached a similar conclusion, as they have signed Russell Branyan and Bill Hall to minor-league deals over the past day. Branyan and Hall provide the Yankees with cheap depth for their bench, and adding the two of them might mean the Yanks only need to sign one of Chavez, Ibanez, and Damon — not two. Burnett may be overpaid, but that’s no reason to trade him for peanuts; he’s still a useful pitcher with upside and provides the Yankees with some much-needed rotation depth.




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Steve is the editor-in-chief of DRaysBay and the keeper of the FanGraphs Library. You can follow him on Twitter at @steveslow.

47 Responses to “Good Luck Shopping A.J. Burnett, Yanks”

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  1. Tom B says:

    Burnett’s best season of his career came with almost the same HR/FB rate.

    I wouldn’t assume any regression there will directly relate to a better season for him.

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    • Tom B says:

      This is the same starting pitcher that has a lower ERA when he walks more batters.

      A true statistical enigma.

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    • DavidCEisen says:

      His best season came with an HR/FB rate of 9.6%; his second best came with a rate of 9.4%. Both of those rates are substantially lower than 17%.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Obviously if you’re using FIP-based WAR, seasons where he has a lower HR/FB rate are going to be more valuable.

        brWAR likes him a lot less, and he really doesn’t have a best season, but rather a handful of 2.6-3.8 seasons, as compared to fWAR which shows him having 2 5+ WAR seasons, and a 4.5 WAR season.

        I think you can chalk him up as a “great stuff but doesn’t know how to pitch” guy. I watch him sometimes and think “how does anyone hit this guy” and then later in the game I see why. movement is great unless it moves right to the heart of the plate. Great stuff, poor command.

        We’ve talked about this before that some teams/coaches think they’re the “girl that can finally tame the bad boy”, so there may be a team out there whose pitching coach can convince the GM that he’s the guy that can get AJ to be consistent and really gain control of his excellent stuff because he’s recognized “Factor X” than no other pitching coach has identified. Or some such bull.

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      • DavidCEisen says:

        Fine, according to BR his best season came in 2002 with a HR/FB rate of 6.1%. And his 2007 season, where he had a 17% HR/FB rate, was his 5th best according to BR.

        I also think 2008 was unquestionably his best season. His ERA may have been 4.07, but he was pitching in the AL East and set a career high in innings pitched.

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  2. corvelay says:

    I don’t see the point of trading him if they eat that much of the contract anyway, unless they got a decent chip in return. He would not have to do much to be worth the $8m over 2 years that the article speculates the Yanks are looking to save. And I imagine he must be well-liked in the clubhouse as he is allowed to smash shaving cream pies in even A-Rod’s face after a walk-off hit. Seems willing to mentor the young pitchers too, he and Nova were practically inseparable this past year.

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  3. JRoth says:

    Oswalt has taken himself out of contention for all but 8-10 teams (or so everyone says); Burnett has a no-trade list of 10 teams.

    Sounds to me like there’s at least 10 teams out there that might be in a position to get Burnett but not Oswalt.

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    • B N says:

      Pshaw. Don’t go coming around here with your “math.” Nobody likes that here. ;)

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    • Ari Collins says:

      This. Oswalt isn’t available for everyone. He seems to actually be available or like three teams.

      There aren’t any pitchers of Burnett’s quality (though not an ace, he’s still a good pitcher) available through FA. If you only have to give up a marginal prospect and pay him $4MM-$5MM a year? That’s a steal.

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  4. joser says:

    They should’ve included him in the deal for Pineda. He might thrive (well, not die) in Safeco, and the fanbase that hated to see Montero go might feel a little better if Burnett went with him

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    • bender says:

      Except seattle has no use for Burnett, even at a huge discount

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      • joser says:

        Tell that to the pile of relievers they’ve acquired (or Kevin Millwood, for that matter). Seattle seems unable to resist picking up pitching, and a couple of their projected starters still have options for AAA. As the story notes, if Burnett regresses back to somewhat better numbers with the help of the park, the M’s could turn him into 2012′s Fister/Bedard: there’s always some contending team looking for another starter at the deadline, and having the Yankees paying part of the freight makes that even sweeter.

        But, you could be right; it’s even possible the Yankees actually offered him in the deal (instead of Noesi) and the M’s weren’t interested.

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  5. Hurtlockertwo says:

    Trade him to the Giants for Barry Zito straight up. Let Righetti sprinkle him with the magic no HR dust.

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  6. Craig says:

    Maybe the Twins at that price. They need SP help, have a pitcher-friendly ballpark, and have had success with a Yankee retread before (Pavano). But it would have to be at $4M per year or less. They are out of budget room.

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  7. bri87 says:

    Really? Burnett or Furbush. I would think at that price he would be valuable. If he shines, i think they could flip him for another piece, a la Bedard.

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  8. vivalajeter says:

    I’m a little confused here. Joel Sherman’s quote seems to indicate that the yankees would pick up $8MM of the contract, so the acquiring team would still be on the hook for $25MM. This article is assuming that the acquiring team would only pay $8MM (I guess with the yankees picking up $25MM). It seems backwards to me.

    If the yankees only pick up $8MM then I don’t see why any team would even consider it.

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  9. PiratesHurdles says:

    “why would a team bother trading for Burnett when they could sign Roy Oswalt for a similar salary?”

    Because Oswalt refuses to play for almost every team. For example Pittsburgh has money, needs a SP, and Oswalt said don’t even bother bidding. I’m not saying its a great idea, the money involved would have to be minimal, but I’d rather see Burnett start every 5th day than Correia.

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    • gonfalon says:

      “Because Oswalt refuses to play for almost every team.”

      this… but in fairness to Oswalt, at his age he probably only wants to play for a World Series-contending team

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      • PiratesHurdles says:

        Oswalt is younger than Burnett, Roy is being a spoiled prima donna, who clearly thinks more of his stature than MLB teams do.

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    • Tom says:

      Plus Oswalt is a clear injury risk. While AJ had that label early in his career he has been dependable in terms of making starts.

      Also if youend up paying Burnett 4mil per…. are you really getting Oswalt at that price?

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  10. Big Baby says:

    If the Yankees only use Branyan as a platoon DH, do they even need a Damon or Ibañez type? Branyan projects as well as those two against righties, and has two of the deepest homers in NYSIII’s history to boot.

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    • John says:

      Branyan has always fascinated me. Funny when a player is great at hitting home runs but not really good at anything else. I’d definitely take that skillset, haha.

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  11. Toosh says:

    Burnett to the Cubs for Soriano and cash.

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    • Cidron says:

      Yanks already got rid of Soriano once. Why would they want him back?

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      • vivalajeter says:

        Trading someone for Arod isn’t really getting rid of someone in the sense that they wouldn’t want him back. It’s not like they released him.

        But yeah, he would serve almost no purpose on the Yankees for the next couple years.

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      • Toosh says:

        Simple. They’re looking to add a bat and get rid of Burnett.

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  12. Greg says:

    It was rumored that the Yankees turned down a Jason Bay for Burnett swap earlier this off-season, for whatever that’s worth.

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  13. Colin says:

    This seems like a pretty good fit for the Pirates after some of the rumors about them offering a 3 year deal to Edwin Jackson and trying to get in on Roy Oswalt. If they could get acquire AJ Burnett for a couple years at $3M-$4M it’d be very similar to the type of deals they’ve given to starting pitchers recently (ie Kevin Correia) but for a potentially more valuable player. Whether or not the Pirates are on Burnett’s no trade list could be an issue, but still an intriguing possibility.

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  14. pft says:

    “But right now, why would a team bother trading for Burnett when they could sign Roy Oswalt for a similar salary?”

    Oswalt is way too picky about where he wants to play and has rejected a number of teams like the Tigers, Indians, Pirates and Red Sox (so far). Also, there are questions about how his back holds up. AJ has at least been durable recently.

    I could see a NL team taking a chance on Burnett if the Yankees picked up at least 2/3 of his salary and asked for little in return. The bet being he would perform better in the NL out of the AL East w/o a DH on a team with less pressure and a bigger park (at least a bigger RF)

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  15. Mr Punch says:

    1. Great stuff, but really doesn’t know how to pitch? Sounds like he came up with Florida! Brad Penny, Livan Hernandez… Josh Beckett eventually learned something, but he fits. What a waste of talent. They made good money, but could have been so much better.

    2. With a contract this bad, it’s a mistake to think in terms of a trade. Burnett has negative value. To free up any significant amount of money, the Yankees would have to find a team willing to overpay to take a large risk – any return to them would be purely symbolic.

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  16. Sandy Kazmir says:

    So is he a +1.5 WAR pitcher as you assert throughout the article or is he +2-3 as you allege in a throwaway line near the end?

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  17. alex says:

    Burnett actually has pretty solid peripherals. Great k%, great GB%, and a slightly unlucky strand rate. However, walks and homeruns can make the best pitcher look worthless. A 1.47 hr/9% and a walk rate approaching four is disgraceful. It is impossible to be of value with these statistics. Burnett is a free agent, in fantasy baseball and the real life.

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  18. Tiger says:

    Isn’t Oswalt a type A FA? He would cost the signing team more than just money, and would be more expensive than Burnett to some GMs.

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  19. Sparkey says:

    “Burnett actually has pretty solid peripherals.”

    If this is true, why are the Yankees trying so hard to throw him away for nothing??

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  20. EricGQ says:

    Sooo, any of you comment “experts” in the mood to argue Burnett’s “worthlessness” now? Is that egg on your face or do you have some statistical smoke and mirrors you’d like to regurgitate to further distract from reality?!

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