Grading The Deal: Pirates Get Burnett At Discount PriceAuthored by Andrew Perna - 22nd February, 2012 - 7:05 pm
After a week of persistent rumors, the New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates had a trade approved by Major League Baseball on Sunday night.
In exchange for the unpredictable A.J. Burnett, the Yankees received a pair of low-level prospects -- right-hander Diego Moreno and outfielder Exicardo Cayones.
Classifying the Yankees as thrifty or cost-conscience is like calling Derek Jeter uncomfortable in his own skin. It just is not realistic. They have had the highest payroll in baseball for what seems like forever, but they cut corners this offseason. Brian Cashman was not able to sign Raul Ibanez or re-sign Eric Chavez until they cleared some payroll in this deal.
Multiple sources have reported that Pittsburgh will pay $13 million of the $31.1 million remaining on Burnett's contract. New York originally signed the right-hander to a five-year, $82.5 million deal prior to the 2009 season. The Yankees won the World Series the following fall.
While the deal isn't a hard pill to swallow because Burnett has been New York's favorite punching bag for more than a year, it's certainly not the type of trade the organization completes often. They are usually the team helping another soften the blow of a poor financial decision.
The Pirates were in the right place at the right time. The important aspect of the deal for the Yankees isn't Moreno or Cayones, but rather the fact that they can now make a few additions to their bench. For the Pirates, the deal makes perfect sense.
They are not a team that is usually able to sign a coveted free agent to a big-time contract, having recorded 19 consecutive losing seasons. No major professional sports team in North America has endured such a depressing stretch. So adding a pitcher like Burnett, while erratic over his final two seasons in New York, for $13 million over two seasons is a no-brainer.
Burnett joins a rotation that includes Erik Bedard, James McDonald, Kevin Correia and Jeff Karstens. It's hard to have a good win-loss record on a perennial loser, but Pittsburgh's regular starting staff was a combined 46-53 in 2011 and no one pitched more than 171 innings. Burnett has averaged more than 200 innings over the last four seasons and prior to the last two campaigns, he didn't post an ERA over 4.07 over his previous eight full seasons.
There is an inherent belief that Burnett will be a better pitcher in Pittsburgh with less stress and pressure. In three seasons with the Blue Jays, which came right before his time with the Yankees, the Arkansas native went 38-26 with an average ERA of 3.93. He also averaged more than a strikeout per inning in Toronto.
The veteran will immediately slide in as Pittsburgh's No. 1 starter and provide leadership and a World Series ring to a young roster. Early in his tenure with the Yankees, Burnett pitched well and was the glue that helped keep the star-driven team together. He began the tradition of hitting players in the face with a shaving cream pie after game-winning hits. That was back when he was beloved in New York.
When you consider the transition out of the American League East and then into the designated hitter-less National League, it's not hard to imagine Burnett righting the ship. For $5 million in 2012 and $8 million in 2013, he doesn't even have to be lights out to prove valuable for the annual cellar dweller.
Grade for the Pirates: A
As mentioned, the no-name prospects mean nothing to the Yankees. Cashman was simply waiting to clear some payroll in order to sign Ibanez to be the team's left-handed designated hitter (which he has already done). The team has also been talking as though Chavez has been re-signed without an official announcement having been made.
Parting ways with Burnett was important for the Yankees, but they were only able to make the move because of the depth they have in their rotation. Having added Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda in early January, Joe Girardi has CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia, Kuroda and Pineda to trot out on the mound.
The Yankees will watch Hughes and Garcia battle for the fifth spot in the team's starting rotation.
Grade for the Yankees: C
The move was a shrewd one by Cashman and made all kinds of sense given the team's roster and sudden need to free up some money. However, they have to be downgraded for a) putting themselves in this position and b) not turning Burnett into a bench player outright.
Bobby Abreu reportedly could have been had in a three-team deal with the Phillies and Angels. His $9 million salary may have been too steep for the Yankees, but the deal still would have reduced their payroll depending on how much of Burnett's contract was absorbed -- you'd have to believe that the big-market Phillies would have covered more than the Pirates.