Yankees, Pirates Finally Trade A.J. Burnett

It’s about time.

Although it’s only been a little more than a week since the A.J. Burnett coverage started, it feels like it has just gone on and on. Especially in this dead time of baseball news — Brett Tomko signed with the Reds? Ooh! — the movement of any significant player can draw the full attention of baseball obsessives. Thankfully, the Yankees and Pirates finally pulled the trigger Friday. The Yankees will eat a little over half of Burnett’s remaining contract, and in return the Pirates will receive two prospects: right-handed reliever Diego Moreno and outfielder and Name of the Year candidate Exicardo Coyones.

The big news for the Yankees lies not in the prospects but in the money they will be saving by not allowing A.J. Burnett to pitch for them. The Pirates agreed to pay Burnett $5 million in 2012 and $8.5 million in 2013 out of a yearly total of $16.5 million. Given the Yankees’ cash flow, it may have been worth it to keep Burnett prior to the Yankees acquisitions of Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda. But with those two in place and not much difference between Burnett and Freddy Garcia as the fifth starter, it made sense to unload Burnett for some flexibility over the next two seasons even if the prospect haul was minimal.

And minimal this prospect haul is. Moreno has potential as a reliever, showing big strikeout numbers at multiple levels (including 45 in 44.1 innings between High-A and Double-A in 2011). However, considering his age — Moreno turns 26 in July — he should be dominating hitters at those levels. Coyones is a very raw 20-year-old outfielder who has taken just 37 plate appearances beyond rookie ball. Although he hit for a decent average and on-base percentage in his 73 games at that level, he showed no discernible power, putting up a slash line of .272/.372/.380. He has yet to hit a home run in American professional baseball.

So yes, it’s about the money. The $5 million the Yankees save this year could give some flexibility for a trade at the deadline, and the $8.5 million next year is the real prize. Meanwhile, the Pirates get a reclamation project in Burnett who should at the least give them some innings — he’s thrown at least 180 innings each of the last four seasons. If the Pirates show enough improvement to contend for a division title in 2013 — an unlikely but possible scenario — Burnett could serve as a mid-rotation pitcher for that team. If not, the Pirates can hope he regains enough of his own form to serve as a trade chip.




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60 Responses to “Yankees, Pirates Finally Trade A.J. Burnett”

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  1. John says:

    No $/WAR analysis to let me know whether this is a good deal or not? You’re getting lazy, Fangraphs.

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  2. Miguel Arias says:

    So happy :D

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  3. j6takish says:

    Burnett gives the Pirates something they desperately need, someone to just simply throw innings while the kids marinade in the minors.

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      If all they needed was someone to throw a ton of replacement-level innings, they could have acquired any number of AAAA players for a lot less than $13M.

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      • Rex says:

        AL East >>>>NL Central
        PNC for Pitchers >>>>Yankee Stadium for Pitchers
        New York Media >>>>>>>>>>Pittsburgh Media
        Burnett in Pittsburgh>>Burnett in New York

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      • JMorrow says:

        Except that Burnett has easily been above replacement level the past few years and his peripherals last year certainly don’t suggest this trend will suddenly end, especially when considering the overall easier environment he’ll be in compared to pitching in the AL East.

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  4. geo says:

    A thorough disappointment to all of those Yankees fans who were convinced they were getting Gerrit Cole. As delusional as Red Sox fans who think they are getting Matt Garza for Theo.

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    • jscape2000 says:

      Yikes. I hadn’t heard anyone dumb enough to say that out loud. IIRC, the players drafted last year can’t be traded until the next June draft?

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    • Woodrum's UZR Article says:

      I hadn’t heard anyone mention Gerrit Cole’s name…. what website was this?

      Also, I was under the impression he wasn’t eligible to be traded anyway.

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      • john sparrow says:

        it wasn’t a big deal mention. But there was an ESPN NY piece that said:

        “Ten million ain’t gonna get it done,” said the Yankees source, referring to the amount of Burnett’s salary the Pirates have agreed to pay. “Not unless we get top-level prospects.”

        The Pirates’ highest-rated prospect, right-handed pitcher Gerrit Cole, is not among the players being offered in the deal.

        The piece is here

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    • Liam in NY says:

      Yeah, I don’t think I saw that anywhere.

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    • Rowsdower says:

      Nobody thought they were getting Gerrit Cole. You’re thinking of Garrett Jones. Big difference.

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  5. PA says:

    “The Yankees will eat a little over half of Burnett’s remaining contract, and in return the Pirates will receive two prospects”

    I believe an edit is in order.

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  6. yosoyfiesta says:

    It’s a Yankees money dump, Burnett’s WAR the past two seasons was 1.4 in 2010 and 1.5 in 2011. Based on the Fangraphs value stats, he was worth $5.6 mil in ’10 and $6.7 mil in 2011, he’s due $16.5 million this year and next year, so he’s getting paid about $10 mil more than his worth the last two seasons. This was a good move for the Yankee’s, an aging overpaid starter who has lost velocity each year since 2007. They’re still paying most of his salary for the next two seasons, but it frees up money for them to make other moves.

    On the flip side, the Pirates gave up very little to get him. Paying him $5 mil this year means he only needs to be as good as he has been to be a value grab (he’s projected as a 1.3 WAR pitcher this year). His xFIP suggests that he was better th commodity.an his ERA suggests last year. His HR/FB jumped a little bit, but that could have something to do with Yankee Stadium being a softball field. His K% recovered from a 6.99 in 2010 to 8.18 in 2011, which may be because he began to rely on his curveball more to get outs. A move to a new ballpark may help, especially one that hurts batters (at least RH ones). So if he can continue to miss bats he may be a solid grab for the Pirates. If he is worth more than 3.0 WAR for the next two seasons that the Pirates basically got their moneys worth. If he is any better than that, it’s gravy. So it looks like a good deal for both teams. Hope that sheds some light on the $/WAR question.

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    • Joe says:

      Home 2011 HR/FB – 16.8%
      Away 2011 HR/FB – 17.4%

      Yeah probably a Yankee stadium thing.. the softball field meme lives on! But hey why let the facts get in the way of a fun narrative.

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      • Pitnick says:

        The fact that the HR/FB rate was also high away doesn’t mean the home park wasn’t a factor in his suckage. Even if he’s become generally homer-prone, a severely hitter friendly environment (for 114 of his 190 innings) is sure to exacerbate the problem. That 16.8% home mark would still have made him the league worst in HR/FB.

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      • Joe says:

        Ummm…. actually it kind of does.. he was giving up HR’s at the same rate (per flyball) at home as on the road (and not just 2011, every year in NY). Why is the automatic reaction to any Yankees player statistic “home park”.

        It kind of suggests the problem wasn’t simply home park related when his stats are as bad or in many cases worse on the road.

        As for runs allowed:
        Home ERA as a Yankee: 4.14
        Away ERA 5.48

        His FIP was also better at home over the three years… utterly shocking considering the softball field that is Yankee stadium, right?

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      • AA says:

        Add in games at Fenway and Camden Yards and you get even more problems with hitter-friendly parks. Also, there is the psychological advantage of being in one’s home park.

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    • Baltar says:

      He’s also older this year and next. $5M for something probably under 1.3 WAR this year is hardly “a value grab,” and $8.5M next year is a big waste for a team like Pittsburgh.
      The Pirates got taken.

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      • Baltar says:

        Replace “something probably under” in my comment with “about.” He is a modest value this year.
        Otherwise, my comment stands.

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      • Monroe says:

        Agreed. It seems to me that War/$ is treated as if it’s a constant, but it should be looked at in respect to payroll. A team like the Pirates with their low payroll simply can’t be paying 5 million a win. That’s just too much of a percentage of their payroll for a negligible gain. I’d suggest that they need their free agent wins to cost about half that for them to begin to make any sense.

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      • Andy says:

        True, but the Pirates haven’t been able to give their money away as of late.

        The fact that players don’t want to play for a noncontender means at some point overspending on an FA is inevitable.

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  7. Bronnt says:

    This could turn out nicely for the Pirates. Moving from the AL East to the NL Central, while his peripherals have already looked better than his ERA (though still not great, except for his SIERA last year), he could be valuable for them. They didn’t give up anything significant, and if he were to rebound to even a 3 WAR season, they can feel really good about this move.

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  8. CircleChange11 says:

    Wow, what a career U-Turn.

    Don;t get me wrong, I can only sympathize so much for a guy making 14M over the next 2 years to play professional baseball … just thinking of going from the NYY to the PIT.

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    • jscape2000 says:

      He vetoed a trade the Angels. Chose to keep his family close to their current home rather than play for a contender.

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      • PiratesHurdles says:

        No, he chose to not make his wife (who has a deathly fear of flying) travel far from home in Baltimore.

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      • Woodrum's UZR Article says:

        right… isn’t that what jscape just said?

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      • matt w says:

        I think the difference is that his wife isn’t moving anyway — it’s not a question of uprooting the family, it’s whether they have to fly when they come to see him.

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      • Baltar says:

        Wow! The guy passed on a chance to live In SoCal instead of Baltimore half the year and have his wife and kids 3000 miles away, leaving him alone with all those girls in (or out of) bikinis.
        Maybe the Pirates should have him take a psych exam along with his physical before the trade becomes official.

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      • RIP Carlos Baerga says:

        He’s afraid of failure w/ SoCal chicks. He rarely makes a good pitch and balls often completely miss the zone.

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      • matt w says:

        @Baltar: Perhaps he’s sincerely in love with his wife.

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    • hk says:

      Then I suspect you’d have less sympathy for a guy making $33M over the next 2 years to play professional baseball.

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    • Shane Heathers says:

      Pittsburgh is paying 14 (13.5) million over the next two years for Burnett, while the Yankees wiil be paying him 19.5 so AJ still gets the full 33 million. I’m gonna go on gut (very unfangraphs) and say AJ goes all Javier Vazquez on the national league and posts a 3.50 ERA, 400 innings, 350 strikeouts, 30 wins over the next two years and the Yankees will regret the Kuroda signing. Ultimately they end up giving Burnett a 2 year 35 million dollar deal in the winter of 2013-2014. His stats in 2014 with the Yankees will be 9-12, 175 IP, 5.17 ERA. In the winter of 2014-2015 they trade him back to the pirates for 2013 30th round draft pick, eating 12.5 million of his 17.5 million. After struggling a little early he again goes all Javier Vazquez and ends up being thebest pitcher in the National league

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      • Shane Heathers says:

        whoops…… goes all Javier Vazquez and ends up being the best pitcher in the National League post ALL STAR break in 2015. He then retires and moves to Anaheim to concetrate on surfing.

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  9. nark says:

    any idea how this will impact the luxury tax?

    Does any of Burnett’s salary count towards the luxury tax still?

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    • Woodrum's UZR Article says:

      yankees pay luxury tax on what theyre contributing to burnetts salary… so apparently theyre paying $19.5M of it

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  10. Psst says:

    If you think giving up some Org filler for the right to pay AJ Burnett like he was Aaron Harang then you have to see this as a good deal for Pittsburg. If you are a Yankee you just got Hiroki Kuroda+2 million+two C prospects for a guy who makes the fans mad just by being on the team.

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  11. @HK

    Yeah I thought of that after I posted. The ~14 M is just the part PIT is paying.

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  12. ajra2121 says:

    never wanted us to sign AJ and despite his brilliant game 2 in the 2009 WS, he was never worth the years or money we gave him. am hoping we learn from this but i doubt we will. paying a tone of money for him to play for someone else is actually a good think.

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  13. Scott says:

    AJ to Pittsburgh is a good thing all around, aside from all the attached money issues. AJ was a head-case in NY, most probably due to the impatient and unrelenting fans. He’ll do well in Pitt, maybe not all-star caliber, but much improved due to facing NL line-ups and only half-filled stadiums. He’ll also be a great presence in the clubhouse – an attribute often overlooked in all this.

    Concurrently, NY dumps a controversial conversation-piece and allows Rothschild to focus more on all the other pitchers. AJ was the majority of the 80-percent in the old “80/20″ rule. Now maybe NY can start developing some of those great young pitching prospects (ie Betances and Banuelos).

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    • raf says:

      AJ performed better in NY than he did on the road during his time as a Yankee. I don’t know if it was so much him being a head case in NY than him being a head case in general.

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  14. M says:

    So looking forward to A.J. mowing down the Yankees on March 20th…..4IP 6K’s, 1BB, No Runs.
    “Yes, a dark time passed over this land, but now there is something like light.” – Dave Eggers

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  15. Robbie G. says:

    Bottom feeder teams such as Pittsburgh will remain bottom feeder teams so long as the majority of the payroll is spent on completely unwanted (by non-bottom feeder teams) players such as A.J. Burnett, so long as such teams remain a dumping ground for such veteran mediocrities. It is very difficult for me to believe that Pittsburgh cannot get A.J. Burnett-caliber production (or lack thereof) in 2012 and 2013 for far less than the $13.5 mil that it will be paying Burnett.

    There are presumably multiple Burnett-caliber free agent pitchers out there who can be had for less than $5 mil in 2012 and who wouldn’t insist on a two-year deal, although I don’t have a list of remaining free agent pitchers in front of me at the moment so I can’t rattle off names. A mediocre veteran innings-eater #4/#5 starting pitcher should not cost much money, and a rebuilding team such as the Pirates really does not need to be wasting its money on such a player.

    Brad Penny signed for $4.5 mil to play in Japan. Is Burnett really a better pitcher than Brad Penny? Bruce Chen re-signed with the Royals for two years, $9 mil, whereas the Pirates will pay Burnett $13.5 mil during this time period. Is Burnett really a better pitcher than Bruce Chen? The Marlins will pay only $3 mil of Carlos Zambrano’s 2012 salary. Is Burnett really a better pitcher than Carlos Zambrano? Even if Burnett is comparable to or even slightly better than Chen and Penny and Zambrano, again, should a rebuilding team really be spending this kind of money for a mediocre #4/#5 veteran starting pitcher? I can understand why a team such as Boston would want to spend this kind of money for a back-of-the-rotation guy, since mediocrity > terrible, and a mediocre innings eater (rather than a terrible innings eater, or a patchwork of terrible #5 starters) may well be the difference between making the playoffs and not making the playoffs. But a team such as Pittsburgh does not have such concerns; even good teams are only going to spend this kind of money on a Burnett/Chen/Penny as a last resort, and they aren’t going to be thrilled about it. If you are a fan of a team gunning for the playoffs, when you watch your #5 A.J. Burnett-caliber starting pitcher pitch, you mostly wish that you had somebody better than him pitching every fifth day and hope that he doesn’t go out there and get shelled.

    Finally, this idea that a one win player is worth $4-$5 mil kind of bugs me. Shouldn’t a well-managed team be able to get that kind of production for less than $4-$5 mil? A well-managed team is going to get good bang for its buck and will look to fill out its roster with good bang-for-your-buck players. A well-managed team spends big bucks on star players and surrounds these star players with bang-for-your-buck veterans and players developed in its minor league system (or plucked away from other teams’ minor league systems).

    Anyway, awful trade for the Pirates, and brilliant play by Brian Cashman in convincing a team to pay so much of Burnett’s remaining monies owed.

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    • wat says:

      Burnett is much, much better than Penny; much better than Chen; and is a wash against Big Z but Z specifically wanted to go to Florida.

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    • Cidron says:

      Pittsburgh was desperate for a big name player. Granted the “big” for Burnett wasnt huge, but it is big. Pittsburgh has to prove it can be a destination for free-agents, not just no-name scrubs. Pittsburgh is building something that soon will look to free-agency to fill out the roster with “just the right player”. And, they want to let MLB/MLBPA/agents know that they are a good destination, and not to be overlooked. This is just a stepping stone along that path. Until recently, free agents want to go to NY, So-Cal, Texas, Phi, etc as they are competitive, and/or have a wonderful environment (beaches, nightlife, etc) that is attractive to the player. Pitt had neither. So it has to work extra hard to attract free agents. Sometimes its an overpay, sometimes, its just .. other.

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      • hk says:

        Right. PIT tried to sign EJax and Oswalt, but both turned them down. They signed the injury-plagued Bedard for 1 year and are getting Burnett for low level prospects and money that was apparently (per the EJax and Oswalt offers) already in the budget. This is a smart move for a small market team while it hopes and waits for its high end pitching prospects to develop.

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      • gonfalon says:

        agreed… another example is Derrek Lee (apparently) choosing to retire instead of accepting the $8M or so he would have received in arbitration to be the Pirates’ starting 1B in 2012.

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    • hk says:

      You’re giving kudos to the GM who paid $69M for 3 years of Burnett plus 2 low level prospects. That’s an interesting perspective.

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      • Cidron says:

        I am giving kudos to the GM who signed a recognizable (and once good) name/face to the roster that fans can come see pitch. If he pitches even his career average that is a plus for Pitt. If he performs well outside the lights and pressure of NY that has melted many players, then even better as they can flip him for prospects (better than two low level). About the only way that it will be bad is if he further falls off a cliff. And, that just isnt likely, given that schedule called the NL Central (cubs, brewers sans braun (for 50) and fielder, stl (sans pujols), etc. It isnt like he is trying to pitch vs the hitters of Toronto (bautista etc), Boston, Balt, Tampa anymore. Merely “good” pitchers would suffer career worsts vs that AL-East sched.

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      • hk says:

        @ Cidron,

        I wasn’t questioning you in my comment at 11:32 am, I was questioning Robbie G. calling this a brilliant play for Cashman. I was agreeing with you in my comment at 11:37 am.

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  16. Oregon Nut Cups says:

    Sorry if this has been said but I must make sure it is:

    The Pirates must have some large Coyones to pull this trade off.

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    • Bill says:

      Disagree. They are on record as trying to land Oswalt and Wilson. They gave them both very competitive offers. The fans see this. They can’t accuse the Bucs ownership of missing out on players because they were cheap. The fans see that the the Bucs weren’t getting a good pitcher. They gave up very little in this trade, so the fans won’t hold it against the ownership if it fails. The downside to this move is very small.

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      • Andy says:

        As someone who’s lived in Pittsburgh his entire life, and knows what Pirate fans are like, trust me: If this trade fails, fans will want ownership’s heads in some form.

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  17. Paul says:

    I think it’s a great deal for both teams, but especially the Pirates.

    What people might be missing about him being a “head case” is that so is his manager. This can go one of two ways:

    Head Case + Head Case = Basement by June 1

    Head Case + Head Case = Superphantasmic contention run into August

    I’d put money on the latter. I would not be the least bit surprised to see Clint Hurdle having him try some different absurd mind trick in each start. Rabbits feet, chicken feet, garters, eyelid breathing. It’s a narrative just waiting to be written. Cheers Pirates fans, it’s going to be a fun season one way or another!

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