Pirates Should Trade For Burnett

The Yankees are going to trade A.J. Burnett before the season starts. He isn’t necessary to their success moving forward and his spot in the rotation is better filled by Phil Hughes or Freddy Garcia. The Yankees can also reallocate whatever portion of Burnett’s salary gets absorbed by a trade partner to more pressing areas, such as designated hitter. While the Yankees aren’t typically cost-conscious in this fashion — we would expect them to just add salary on top of a player like Burnett — A.J. still has value and the move represents more than a straight salary dump.

While four teams are reportedly pushing for Burnett, the Pirates have emerged as the likeliest trade partner. They have some money to spend and prospects to trade and, after having their attempts rebuffed by Edwin Jackson, are itching to acquire a solid #2/#3 starter. Whether that description still fits Burnett is largely debatable, but this is a deal the Pirates should pursue.

Contextually, everything makes sense for both the Buccos and Burnett. He isn’t going to push them into contention, but he will help move the needle. Realistically, that’s all a team like the Pirates can hope for. Burnett would move to the easier league, and a much easier division overall, and can potentially re-establish his value. At 35 years old he isn’t going to sign another big contract when his current deal expires, but two solid years with the Pirates in which he serves as a mentor of sorts to the youngins could go a long way towards garnering him short-term offers when his remaining $33 million comes off the books.

The kneejerk reaction to a potential Burnett-to-the-Pirates trade is to roll our eyes and wonder why the Pirates would even bother. They won’t contend, with or without Burnett, and the money could be better spent within the system.

While investing in the system is always prudent for a perpetually rebuilding team, spending money on the major league roster isn’t the worst decision either. As long as the funds are allocated wisely, acquiring veterans can aid the rebuilding process. The Pirates also face the tough task of not even being considered by veterans. Edwin Jackson decided against their three-year offer and they aren’t even on Roy Oswalt‘s radar. To net themselves a decent veteran pitcher the Pirates have to get creative.

Trading for A.J. Burnett and paying him $10-$12 million over the next two years is both creative and smart, as he has value on that type of contract. Plus, while the Yankees claim the move is more than a salary dump, and while that seems to ring some semblance of truth, they can’t expect to bring back upper echelon prospects. Under that guise, the Pirates will pay a worthwhile starting pitcher $5-$6 million per year, for the next two years, without depleting the system or hurting their rebuilding process.

Some may say pursuing Burnett shows that the Pirates front office is inept. It actually shows the exact opposite, in that the front office would accomplish one of the toughest parts of rebuilding: spending money on the right major league players. This isn’t the Royals signing Jose Guillen for three years, but because of moves like that there is an extreme aversion among fans to rebuilding teams signing veterans. But what are they supposed to do? Just give up completely and play young players before they are fully developed?

One of the major issues with the Burnett saga and this potential trade is that narratives get in the way of facts. By blindly trusting headlines, one would believe that Burnett is one of the worst pitchers in baseball. While he has struggled with the longball over the last couple of seasons — 12.9% HR/FB is the highest among AL pitchers since 2009 — his numbers are fairly decent over the last three seasons: averages of 195 IP, 7.9 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, 71.6% LOB, 45.6% GB, 4.15 SIERA. He misses bats and keeps the ball on the ground.

Move him to friendlier confines in all of stadium, division and league, and who knows, maybe his HR/FB% drops a bit and all of a sudden we’re talking about a 200 IP-3.65 ERA pitcher with the above peripherals.

The Pirates are in a position to fill their rotation with younger prospects and veterans trying to re-establish their value. That’s why this year’s rotation features a wide array of talent ranging from Charlie Morton to Erik Bedard. Adding A.J. Burnett to the mix doesn’t hurt their rebuilding process. It represents taking a low-risk flier on a talented pitcher who still has what it takes to produce 3 WAR at the major league level. Expecting his acquisition to push them over the hump is foolish, but there is tremendous incentive for the Buccos to finish at, or over, .500. Bringing Burnett in gets them closer to that area.

As long as they absorb no more than $10-$12 million of his salary, and don’t surrender noteworthy prospects, this is really a no-brainer for the Pirates.




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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.


40 Responses to “Pirates Should Trade For Burnett”

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  1. CircleChange11 says:

    The kneejerk reaction to a potential Burnett-to-the-Pirates trade is to roll our eyes and wonder why the Pirates would even bother.

    I would certainly hope that no FG reader would do this.

    PIT is getting a pitcher that is an upgrade for them, and another is basically going to pay the pitcher to pitch for the Pirates.

    So, to relate to our world, somebody else is going to pay a person to mow our yard, and they mow the yard better than the guy that’s currently doing it (me). Do you accept that offer?

    Also, in a situation like this, don’t we factor in chaining? In other words, Burnett is better than A, who replaces B, who replaces C, who replaces D, etc … where essentially they add Burnett and get rid of their worst reliever.

    I’m convinced that people will complain about everything. If the Pirates don;t try to improve, then they’re just freeloading off revenue sharing. If they do try to improve, then why bother?

    Do I need to quote Herm Edwards here?

    Often in the past, small market and/or struggling teams could only attract free agents by overpaying them to come to a less than ideal organization. In this situation they have an affordable guy, that’s an upgrade for them, and he can’t say no.

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  2. Matt says:

    I still don’t see it. I can’t understand why Pittsburgh would give the Yankees anything from their farm system and invest 10-14 million in Burnett over the next two years.

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    • Melkman says:

      Because Burnett at 5-6 mil per year is below market value. Also we definitely shouldn’t be seeing anything close to a top 20 pirate prospect moving in this deal, if we do, all bets are off of course as far as praising the Pitt front office

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  3. Max says:

    if they finish over .500 with Burnetts help, maybe a free agent or 2 will actually consider pittsburgh. what veteran would want to come to Pitt. when they’ve had like 20 straight losing seasons, unless they’re massively overpaid? If they can make their team respectable this year, in the next 3 years when there guys come up, hopefully they’ll have the ability to get some free agents in the mix as well

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    • Tom says:

      Exactly.

      You don’t just flip the switch from 70 wins to 90 wins. Maybe Burnett helps get them to .500 and next offseason (or the one after it) potential FA’s aren’t thinking they have no chance at winning and will only go there if the Pirates pay over market value. Or maybe they get an extension done with a young player who sees that ownership is not in continuous fire sale mode.

      Also if hie ERA catches up with his peripherals at 5-6mil per he could be a pretty decent trade chip.

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  4. Adrock says:

    I think this is a very good piece of analysis with one exception: Hoping to gain any value from A.J. Burnett as a mentor to young Pirates pitchers.

    I have been in close proximity to A.J. Burnett twice in my life (on spring training trips) and both times he treated minor leaguers (one of whom had just suffered an elbow injury) with immaturity and contempt.

    Reports from journalists who had to deal with him on a day-to-day basis are no better–he’s immature and self-absorbed and unless being traded to Pittsburgh shows him the error of his ways, he’s about the last person I’d want to show young players how to ‘maximize’ their talent.

    All that being said, yes, of course they should trade for him given the parameters you set out.

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    • Colin says:

      Based on your description he sounds like the type of guy I would like to pay someone to be able to punch him in the face without fear of a criminal record.

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    • Rey22 says:

      Look up any NY articles, and you can read that he has been a great friend and mentor to Ivan Nova in the past 2 years. I’m sure he won’t have a problem doing something similar in Pittsburgh.

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      • Adrock says:

        As I’m not a masochist, I won’t be looking up any articles, but if this is the case, that’s great to hear.

        Personality issues aside, he may well have grown up in the last 5 years–given the disjuncture between his perceived talent and his results (i.e. elite stuff, average to mediocre results) perhaps he has some good “don’t do what I did” type wisdom to bestow upon the youngsters.

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  5. Slartibartfast says:

    They would be stupid to give up anything more than a garbage prospect.

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  6. Spike says:

    yeah, you lost me at “he will help move the needle.” Burnett has been all over the place the past few years and so suggesting anything of certainty about his performance going forward is just silly. imo, Bedard was a good high reward signing for them and they may as well just continue on the path they’re on instead of throwing that $10M away for AJB b/c it’s not going to get them anywhere even if he ends up being decent.

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  7. J says:

    One stromg aspect of this article is that it spells “flier” correctly, something rarely seen. Thanks, Mr. Seidman.

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  8. AL Eastbound says:

    Has to be a straight salary dump with no tangible asset in return no? Pittsburgh’s farm system is greatly improving and if Burnett is not going to help the Yanks be successful, no reason he will make the Pirates any more than a .500 team at this point in their rebuild.

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    • Melkman says:

      Its not about Pitt’s farm system, its about the Pirates, while helping themselves, are helping out the Yanks here. Once AJ’s money is cleared they will be able to sign Ibanez or whoever the hell they decide they want to be Andruw’s platoon partner.

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  9. BagofShame says:

    Another benefit to Burnett joining the Pirates is he gives them a very tradeable arm. If he doesn’t “move the needle”, or becomes a roadblock to one of Pittsburgh’s up and coming pitchers, or becomes a clubhouse cancer, he can be easily moved to a contender for legit prospects. Pittsburgh doesn’t have many arms to trade that could accomplish that.

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  10. JRoth says:

    It’s also worth noting that, while 2012 would require a bunch of guys breaking out/playing over their heads for the Pirates to contend, the same is not true of 2013. By July of 2013, if not sooner, the Pirates’ ML roster should include 2 additional elite talents – Starling Marte and Gerritt Cole (there’s also a remote chance of Taillon arriving) – as well as one or two other viable regulars (Sanchez at C, maybe Mercer at SS). Three more wins in 2013 could, in fact, push the Pirates not only into contention, but actually into a division win. It’s not an even money bet, but it’s not a long shot, either.

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  11. Matt Mosher says:

    Sometimes I think 90% of Burnett’s problem is that he’s an intellectual midget that cannot comprehend the need to make adjustments. Yeah, he’s not the kind of person I would expect (or want) mentoring young pitchers.

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    • Melkman says:

      i’ll actually agree with you on this point, nothing i’ve seen from AJ since he got to New York makes me think he can be any type of mentor.

      I think the reality is though, the fact that Edwin Jackson turned down an extra 19 mil to play in Pitt, also the fact that Oswalt refuses to even discuss Pitt. The bucs are not a desirable team for vets to play for right now, and if the way to go about changing that impression is to pick up a few extra wins by adding a Bedard and a Burnett, and getting closer to/reaching(!?) .500. Next years free agent market looks to be full of pitching and the Pirates need to be able offer something else (a chance to win?) besides their money to land someone.

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  12. I agree with Matt here. He’s 35, coming off two consecutive 5+ ERA seasons. He is not worth the price.

    Bucs are having trouble coming to agreements with Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker, two pieces that will be necessary one that pitching talent comes up here.

    Save the asinine price on Burnett and use the money instead toward locking up some key offensive players through their primes.

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  13. Nilsilly says:

    I really liked this article. It’s exactly the kind of different, analytical perspective that I look for and appreciate from FG. Great job. :-)

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  14. Slacker George says:

    From the article (my comments in parens)
    Reasons for Pirates to Trade for Burnett
    – “…they have money to spend” (as they did in 2011, 2010, 2009, etc.)
    – “…they have prospects to trade” (see above)
    – “…they were rebuffed by better FAs” (last-call hookups, anyone?)

    Pro’s for trading for Burnett:
    – “…he will help move the needle. Realistically, that’s all a team like the Pirates can hope for.” (looks like a certain Major League team has self-esteem issues)
    – “Burnett would move to the easier league, and a much easier division overall, and can potentially re-establish his value” (he’s not as good as he was, but could fool people into thinking that he is)
    – “…he serves as a mentor of sorts to the youngins” (Ah, the siren song of the over-the-hill veteran!)
    – “…spending money on the major league roster isn’t the worst decision either” (that’s a mighty low bar)
    – “acquiring veterans can aid the rebuilding process” (The author didn’t spell out how this would manifest itself in Burnett’s case, other than the mentoring aspect.)
    – “Trading for A.J. Burnett and paying him $10-$12 million over the next two years is both creative and smart, as he has value on that type of contract.” (I agree that paying Burnett might be a smart thing to do, but I don’t think it is the smartest thing to do: I’d rather they move the moeny to their minor league budget – both acquisition and development.)

    Con’s against trading for Burnett:
    – “He isn’t going to push them into contention”

    General comments:
    – “The kneejerk reaction to a potential Burnett-to-the-Pirates trade is to roll our eyes and wonder why the Pirates would even bother.” (Which is it? A kneejerk reaction or an eye-rolling reaction? I don’t see myself as being able to pull off both in the same minute.)
    – “Some may say pursuing Burnett shows that the Pirates front office is inept…in that the front office would accomplish one of the toughest parts of rebuilding: spending money on the right major league players.” (We’re talking about the Pirates here. The elephant in the room has nothing to do with acquiring major league talent.)
    – “But what are they supposed to do? Just give up completely and play young players before they are fully developed?” (Straw man. Here, I’m talking out of school: there are plenty of near-major-league talent that the team should look to obtain, players that if they turn out decent, could be part of the next Pirate pennant. Call the Braves and ask about Todd Redmond. I’d rather they fail at that type of speculation. The Pirates should not waste emotional and intellectual capacity on these types of signings. They know that the best scenario is for Burnett to have a good first half enabling the Pirates to flip him for 1 B-level prospect (if they’re lucky) and 2 C-level prospects. The Pirates should change their name to “Pittsburgh Consignment” and advertise in the penny saver.)
    – “One of the major issues with the Burnett saga and this potential trade is that narratives get in the way of facts” (I agree. I think Burnett still has some gas in the tank. I don’t dislike this signing because of Burnett’s perceived lack of ability.)
    – “there is tremendous incentive for the Buccos to finish at, or over, .500.” (If the Pirates look at that as a goal, heaven help the Pirate fan.)

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    • PiratesHurdles says:

      There is significant incentive for thw Pirates to win more now (or finish over .500. The team is heavily attendance dependent for revenue. Last summer we saw what playing .500 ball could do when teh park was sold out nightly in July. Increasing attendance from 20K to 24K last year provided teh funds to add talent in July and push payroll up almost $10 million. A .500 season would likely push attendance further and thus payroll as well. Winning (but not contending) does matter in this case economically.

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    • PiratesHurdles says:

      One other thing, you comment about spending more in minor league player acquisition. That is impossible, MLB just forced the Pirates to spend less and if we start winning the budget shrinks further. I’m not sure you can spend more on development either, they have new facilities at every level.

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  15. Keystone Heavy says:

    Mr. Seidman, #2/#3 starter is FAR from what I would peg Burnett at this point in his career.

    And the “mentoring” the younger players talk is crap. Thats a cliche right up there with trading for a “veteran catcher” or “proven closer” at the trade deadline for the playoffs. Is there any evidence to support the idea that young players get any better from being on the same roster as old guys?

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    • Gaupo says:

      There is a big difference in a #2/#3 starter in the AL East vs the NL Central. Look at the Astros and Cubs lineups. For that matter look at the Brewers lineup sans Fielder. The Cards are relying on the 36 year old Berkman and 35 year old Furcal for offense.

      Burnett could mow through the NL Central.

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  16. Phils_Goodman says:

    No, take Blanton instead!

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  17. Vote4Pedro says:

    Like the article and agree with most of Seidman’s points, and I totally agree with PiratesHurdles on the economic incentive. That’s the point most people are missing. It’s a business, and while the Pirates may not contend with the Cards/Reds this season, if either Bedard or Burnett perform this season = more tickets = more $ to spend next offseason. Plus, the Pirates needed to spend this offseason after attendance picked up last season. The Pirates tried prudently to land SPs, but nobody wants to sign with the Bucs so mgmt is getting creative. The Pirates will never be in the running for Cole Hamels. These are the types of below market deals the Pirates should be making, even if it doesn’t make them contenders just yet.

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  18. jim says:

    the opportunities to beat up on the bottom-feeders that are the cubs and astros should be too good to pass up on.. he could easily end up with 8 of 32-33 starts against them, plus going against the likes of the mets, padres and giants outside the division has to be more appealing than texas, detroit, and anaheim

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  19. evo34 says:

    Burnett = Vazquez. There are very few players who possess the mental instability necessary to underperform their peripherals so consistently. They do, however, exist.

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