Ever since the conference call in which Brian Cashman announced his new contract it seemed inevitable that the Yankees would attempt to trade A.J. Burnett. After two horrible seasons, in which he produced the second-highest ERA among all qualified starters*, a move might be in the best interests of both parties. Burnett’s contract poses a significant obstacle, but even if the Yankees eat some money they can save on 2012 and 2013 payrolls, perhaps allowing them to add another starter via trade or free agency. According to The New York Post, they have already started spreading word of Burnett’s availability.
If the Yankees truly want to move Burnett they’ll have to eat a significant portion of his contract. The Braves set something of a precedent earlier this off-season when they ate two-thirds of Derek Lowe’s remaining salary to facilitate a trade. Yet Lowe has just one year remaining on his contract, which made the situation a bit more palatable. With two years and $33 million remaining on Burnett’s contract, the Yankees would have to eat $22 million to keep pace. Yet according to the Post report they’re only willing to eat $8 million, or just under 25 percent of Burnett’s contract. While that certainly won’t get the job done, it is also just a starting point.
Since the last time we wrote about trading Burnett, the market has changed a bit. A number of mediocre pitchers have received multi-year deals, which might signal a willingness to listen on a pitcher of Burnett’s potential. The Royals signed Bruce Chen for two years and $9 million. The Dodgers double dipped, signing Aaron Harang for two years and $12 million and Chris Capuano for two years and $10 million. While all three pitchers have produced better results than Burnett in the last two years, all three are flawed in their own ways. It stands to reason, then, that another team could have interest in Burnett on similar terms. That would, again, mean the Yankees eating roughly two-thirds of Burnett’s contract.
The matter of compensation remains an open issue. Yes, perhaps some team is willing to pay Burnett $6 million per year for two years. But would they also be willing to give up something in order to obtain Burnett? While that might appear to complicate the equation, in this situation a Derek Lowe type return — low-level minor league pitcher — might suffice. That is, if the Yankees’ likely purpose in shopping Burnett is to trim payroll a bit so they can acquire an upgrade. Their reward in the trade is flexibility, rather than a player. That extra $6 million per season can go towards signing a free agent, especially from next year’s class, or acquiring a slightly higher priced starter.
If the Yankees do indeed trade Burnett, it will likely come after they acquire another starter. Trading him and then failing to acquire a starter would only deplete the depth they have built. Even then, the numerous complications with this deal could render it impossible to complete. The Yankees would have to eat far more than the $8 million they currently propose, and they’d have to accept almost nothing in return. Is that extra $6 million per year worth it to them? Or would they rather just hold onto Burnett and hope for the best? We likely won’t get an answer to that this week, since no acquisitions appear imminent. But we could get some action later this winter if any teams decide that they’d rather trade for Burnett than sign a scrapheap pitcher.