Does the Zambrano trade tell us anything about Burnett?

Looking Back: The Brien Taylor Story
Rolling the dice with Adam Miller
We must kung-fu fight! (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

The Cubs’ new regime didn’t even give Carlos Zambrano a chance. After watching his numerous meltdowns and blowups from afar, the new Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer-led baseball operations department traded the right-hander to the Marlins yesterday. All they had to do was eat $15.5M of the $18M owed to Zambrano next year, the last one on his contract, and take back a player that was nearly non-tendered last month. Chris Volstad was so far out of Miami’s plans that they didn’t even invite him to their new jersey unveiling earlier this offseason.

The Yankees don’t have a new regime, but they are looking to move their own troubled right-hander. During the Winter Meetings we heard that they were shopping A.J. Burnett, reportedly willing to pay $8M of the $33M left on his contract. We know that amount won’t get it done, but it’s just a starting point for negotiations. A few weeks later we heard that a number of teams were mulling over the idea of trading for A.J., but so far nothing has materialized. Ken Rosenthal reported yesterday that the Pirates were one of those clubs, but ultimately everyone is asking the Yankees to basically eat everything left on Burnett’s contract. As the Zambrano trade shows, that probably what it’ll take to facilitate a deal.

In terms of performance, Burnett and Zambrano have been very, very similar over the last three seasons. The former has stayed healthier so he’s thrown 140 more innings during that time, but the latter isn’t as homer prone (0.73 HR/9 vs. 1.25). Burnett has slight edges in strikeout (7.91 K/9 and 20.0 K% vs. 7.49 and 19.1), walk (3.91 BB/9 and 10.1 BB% vs. 4.11 and 10.5), and ground ball (45.6% vs. 43.6%) rates, though Zambrano has the sexier ERA (3.99 vs. 4.79). Obviously the whole NL Central vs. AL East thing plays some part in that. The two have similar BABIPs (.299 vs. .303), xFIPs (4.19 vs. 4.27) and SIERAs (4.15 vs. 4.33) as well.

Not a whole lot differentiates the two on the field over the last three seasons, but off the field they are quite different. Zambrano is a noted hot-head, getting suspended by his team multiple times for run-ins with coaches and teammates. He even had to attend an anger management class. Burnett showed up with a black eye and punched a wall in 2010, but he’s never had any problems remotely close to what Zambrano has put the Cubs through over the last decade. That’s not enough to overcome his poor performance, but it’s definitely not negligible.

Yesterday’s Zambrano trade doesn’t make it any more likely that the Yankees will be able to move Burnett, but it might tell us a little something about what it will take to make it happen. The Cubs ate 86% of the money left on Big Z’s deal and took an out-of-favor player with a smidgen of upside in return. The Yankees would have to eat $28.4M of the $33M left on Burnett’s deal to match that percentage, which I’m guessing is beyond where they’re willing to go. There’s also the whole one year of Zambrano vs. two years of Burnett thing, and we shouldn’t discount the Ozzie Guillen factor. He and Zambrano are friends and countrymen, so I’m sure he was consulted prior to the deal. The Yankees won’t have that Guillen-like edge when trying to trade the Burnett.

Much like the Derek Lowe trade — when the Braves ate two-thirds of his salary and received a fringe low-level prospect in return — the Zambrano deal gives us an idea of what it takes to move an underperforming, overpaid player like Burnett. The Yankees will have to eat upwards of $20-25M to make it happen, getting next to nothing in return. Volstad represents the best case return, and he’s back end of the rotation fodder. Is that worth it for the Yankees? Maybe, but I’m not 100% convinced of it. Either way, I’m not betting on A.J. getting traded anytime soon.

Looking Back: The Brien Taylor Story
Rolling the dice with Adam Miller
  • tbord

    Whatever happened to Rothschild resurrecting Burnett’s career?

    • pat

      Not even Miracle Max could resurrect Burnett’s career.

      • Gonzo

        The candy coating makes it go down easier.

    • Slugger27

      well, he did lower his ERA, FIP, and xFIP (albeit slightly). its a silver lining i guess, even if its miniscule.

      aj has always had decent peripherals, but he always has a lot of wild pitches, hit batsmen, abnormally high HR/FB rate, etc. in his mid 30s, i dont see that changing regardless of pitching coach.

      • Ted Nelson

        He had the highest HR/9 of his career and his HR/FB was above 12% for the second time (17%). I think that there’s a good chance his HRs go down considerably from 2011-to-2012.

        • Slugger27

          from 2011, yes…. but his rate has always been higher than league average his whole career. 12% is still pretty damn high.

          • Ted Nelson

            Just saying that I think he has a good chance to bounce back from a ridiculous HR-rate to a much more respectable one.

        • Steve (different one)

          Didn’t he have an excessive number of “just enough” hrs? Short porch wall scrapers? If a few of those stay in the park, his numbers probably look a lot better.

  • Bill

    Well AJ also didn’t quit on his team last year. He wasn’t very good, but has always been well liked in the clubhouse. That said what would Burnett get if he was a FA this year (assume a 2 year deal)? Probably not much if at all more than 10M (5M per). The Yankees would likely have to eat 20M at a minimum.

    • MannyGeee

      he shoulda quit on his hair stylist though…. AmiRite??

  • UYF1950

    After pondering the question presented by the headline of the piece. I have come to the conclusion.

    AJ needs to go “crazy” a couple of times this season on the mound and particularly in the dugout. Smash a couple of coolers then the Yankees will be forced to move him. Yes, that’s “what the Zambrano trade tell us anything about Burnett”.

  • Monteroisdinero

    AJ will finish out his contract with us. Look at him as an expensive #4/5 but he is healthy, takes the ball, is well-liked by all and eats innings. He is also close with Nova who may teach AJ a few things about how to overcome the implosion factor-well….maybe

    • theboogiedown

      Got to agree. Rather have an over payed 4/5 guy with low expectations than to eat his 2 years pay at %80+. Unfortunately, the reality is that if I’m going to a game with the family, I’m going to do my best and pick a day he has the lowest chance of pitching- he’s that discouraging/frustrating/makes me want to gauge my eyes out, to watch (especially for a $500 evening at the ballpark)

      • Luke

        I went to yanks/sox game last weekend of season. Was originally supposed to see nova. Because of rainout they had dbl header Sunday. Ended up getting Burnett who pitched a hell of a game. nova struggled in the nightcap.

      • MannyGeee

        AJ got me… Mothers Day 2010 at Fenway.

        It was the Humberto Sanchez coming out party though, so I had that going for me.

  • Kosmo

    It would be great if the Pirates were actually interested. Yanks would have to eat something around 22 million of the 33 million owed.
    Maybe the Pirates would toss 1 of Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris, or Tyler Cox the Yanks way.
    I think the Yanks need to unload AJ to make a run at Garza.

  • Burbankbogey

    Tells us that AJ will be a Yankee at least for another year. $20-25mm is too much to eat. He’ll be a back end of the rotation guy who will give us hopefully 10-12 wins.

  • LarryM.,Fl.

    AJ is here to stay as I see his situation. If we can improve the rotation with him at the #5 spot. With his ceiling at 12 wins, I would take it. Having to pay 20 million+ of his contract is crazy. Just as believing he’ll find his stride and win 16/18 games is crazy. He is with us . So embrace the thought that he’ll try his best.

    • Jose M. Vazquez..

      I have to agree with your view. The Yankees are not going to be able to trade AJ without it costing too much. I think he will win 12-14 games next season. We will win the AL East but it will not be as comfortably as in 2011.

  • Matt :: Sec110

    think Zambrano’s Spanish heritage had anything to do with the Marlins taking him on?

    • Yank The Frank

      If that’s the case then AJ would be the perfect candidate for the Twins.

      • Mike Axisa

        He strikes out too many guys for the Twins to like him.

        • Slugger27

          well played

  • JohnC

    we can only hope that he can build some conmfidence off his final start of 2011 in game 4 which extended the season and at least gave the Yanks a chance to advance

  • Gonzo

    Where’s Tony Reagins when you need him?

  • Steve (different one)

    Their best bet is hoping for 30 starts of average pitching this year and then move him next winter. Huge difference between 1 and 2 years left. I could see a team taking a $7m flier next winter, but no one is taking a $12-15m flier right now.

    • Slugger27

      i know im probably in the minority on this one, but i think aj on a 2/12 deal would be a nice move for an NL team looking to contend (that has a need for another starter), especially since in all likelihood they’d be giving up a wordekemper type prospect. his xFIPs have never been below 4.5.

      i think a good fit would be a team with a big ballpark (think NL west) where they could keep his HR/FB rate under control. i could see him being a 2.5-3 WAR pitcher in that scenario

      • Slugger27

        never been ABOVE 4.5^

  • MattG

    Nice objective reasoning. Can’t argue facts.

    Subjectively speaking, though, AJ Burnett has to be worth a lot more than Carlos Zambrano. AJ’s a good guy and his teammates want him to do well. Zambrano’s teammates just want him to stay home. Saying that’s “not negligible” is an understatement.

    The Derek Lowe trade is more relevant, in my mind. Burnett is worth 1/3rd his salary right now, give or take.

    • JohnC

      The other problem that as Mike mentioned, AJ has 2 years remaining while Zambrano only has 1

  • Hardy

    I think Zambrano presents an unique case. I think Cubs management made “just go away” trade here. The Yankees will only trade Burnett if it makes on-field and financial sense for them.

  • Matt :: Sec110

    Think Miami gets one of the wildcard spots?

    • MattG

      Honestly, no. I don’t like what they’ve done at all. Reyes is a huge improvement, but he can’t stay on the field. Buerhle is nothing special, and Guillen is one of those managers that actually hurts a team.

    • Slugger27

      no. reyes was their only good addition in my opinion. thought they gave buehrle and bell way too much money, and i dont view them as impact players.

      • Ted Nelson

        He’s got the 17th highest fWAR among SPs the last three years in the AL at almost 4 per season, but he won’t be an impact player in the NL?

      • JobaWockeeZ

        Buehrle has been a 3.4 to 3.7 WAR plaeyr for the past 3 years. Before that it was more. He’s in the NL now which should help him a bit.

        And Reyes and Hanley infield is pretty epic and that rotation is something to be envious of. Oh and there’s this Stanton guy who is pretty damn good.

    • Ted Nelson

      Their rotation is pretty sick: I think Zambrano is their 5th starter… after Johnson, Nolasco, Sanchez, Buerhle. Hanley’s got a good shot at a bounce back year and his defense should be better at 3B. Reyes, Hanley, Stanton, Gaby Sanchez… If they’re healthy I think that they’ll contend. Bounce back years from Johnson and Hanley + Reyes, Buehrle, and maybe Zambrano.

      • JAG

        Logan Morrison also stands to contribute something as well. I agree about Hanley bouncing back, I can’t imagine that he actually just fell off a cliff last year after how awesome he’s been throughout his career. He’s still in his prime years too. I would not be surprised at all to see him shine next year.

        • BK2ATL

          And they got Ozzie Guillen as their manager to stir it up. They should be a fun club to watch. Now imagine if they make a run at Fielder now….

  • Wearwolf

    I bet they wait until the end of spring training to trade Burnett. If one of their kids looks ready to pitch, they can eat 3/4 of Burnett’s contract and let the kid pitch as the #5 starter. The kid would probably be paid close to nothing, say max $1 million/yr. So if they eat $24 million of Burnett’s contract and pay $1 million/yr to a kid, they’d pretty definitely get better results from someone with a ton of upside than they would from Burnett who is on a steep downside, and save $4-5/yr for the next 2 years.

    • fresno steve


  • Wil Nieves Number 1 Fan

    AJ Burnett / Wil Nieves battery, please.