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.