The reasons to trade, and not to trade, A.J. Burnett

A.J. Burnett's Fifth Starter Case
It's Official: Montero & Noesi for Pineda & Campos is a done deal

The Yankees currently have a pitching problem. Most teams would benefit greatly from having one of Freddy Garcia, Phil Hughes, and A.J. Burnett in the No. 5 rotation spot, but the Yankees have just one spot for those three. While they could go into Spring Training with all three, there’s a chance something will give before then. Since Hughes is still cheaply under team control, and since Garcia can’t be traded until June, Burnett could be the one involved in any pre-season deal.

Anonymous quotes that Jeff Bradley of the Star-Ledger obtained for his weekend column back up the idea of a Burnett move. “It’s a waiting game now to see if A.J. can be dealt,” said Bradley’s source, who is apparently knowledgeable about the Yankees’ off-season plans. While a Burnett deal is no certainty — Mike just made the case for Burnett as the fifth starter — it remains the most likely scenario at this point. The only question remaining is of the circumstances that would warrant a Burnett trade.

They should trade A.J. if:

1. They can get back a useful player

This seems unlikely. As Mike noted in the previous post, and as many of us have noted all off-season, Burnett has ranked among the worst pitchers in baseball for the last two years. Even if he has the potential to pitch much better, teams aren’t eager to take that gamble. That Burnett is now 35 years old makes such a gamble even riskier.

Chances are the only potentially useful players they can get back are of the same ilk as Burnett: overpaid with a productive track record but a spotty recent past. Last week Mike discussed the Burnett for Jason Bay idea, which does have a few merits. There are other big names with big contracts, such as Alfonso Soriano and Adam Dunn, but both are owed considerably more than Burnett, and both are under contract for one additional year. There is at least a chance, and perhaps a good chance, that any team can avoid Bay’s vesting option and have his contract end after the 2013 season.

Other options who fit this mold include Alex Rios ($38 million through 2014), Travis Hafner ($15.75 million through 2012), Justin Morneau ($28 million through 2013), Vernon Wells, ($62 million through 2014), and Carlos Lee ($18.5 million through 2012). None of those is particularly enticing, though neither is Burnett.

2. They can use the freed dollars to sign a useful player

This weekend the Red Sox traded Marco Scutaro to the Rockies for a pitcher who probably isn’t as valuable as Scutaro. Why would the Red Sox do this, especially after they traded their other potential starting shortstop, Jed Lowrie, earlier in the off-season? Speculation persists that the Sox made the move in order to free up payroll so that they can pursue a pitcher. The idea is that even though they’re downgrading at shortstop, the overall gain could favor them.

If the Yankees were to trade Burnett, they’d have to eat a considerable portion of his contract. But they wouldn’t have to eat all of it. The portion that they save, perhaps a third of the remaining value, could go towards signing someone to fill the only open lineup lineup spot, DH. They won’t free up enough money to sign Prince Fielder, though, and beyond him the market looks pretty bleak. It means they’d have to find a trade partner, which only complicates matters.

They shouldn’t trade A.J. if:

1. They don’t do anything with the freed-up money

The Yankees have to pay Burnett. It’s the nature of MLB contracts. They can avoid paying some of his remaining contract if they trade him, but if they don’t reinvest those dollars, there isn’t much of a point to making a trade. At that point having Burnett pitch for the team, even in a reduced role, is preferable to paying him to pitch for another team.

2. They have to eat more than two-thirds of his remaining contract

The Yankees owe Burnett $33 million through 2013, so they’d save $11 million, or $5.5 million per season, if they were to eat two-thirds of his remaining contract. Any more than that, though, and it’s probably not worth the time and effort. Again, a look at the free agent list reveals little of use in that price range. Unless the Yankees think that an additional $5.5 million in both 2012 and 2013 can help them swing a deal they otherwise couldn’t, then they should just keep Burnett and see if he can help them in whatever ways possible. (Read: bullpen.)

3. They feel he’s the best option for the rotation

Few fans believe that Burnett is the best guy to take the mound behind Sabathia, Nova, Kuroda, and Pineda, but as the saying goes, if you think like a fan you’ll soon be sitting with them. If the Yankees believe that Burnett is the man best-suited to take the fifth spot in the rotation, then they shouldn’t trade him for the sake of unclogging the logjam. They can do other things to accomplish that.

It seems unlikely that they’d think this, given Burnett’s performances in the last two years. But perhaps they see something different in Burnett now, or have figured out why he has fared so poorly from June through September, 2010 to 2011. In any case, there’s no reason to trade him if he’s the best man for the job.

As before, any Burnett trade scenario is improbable. There are too many moving parts involved, from Burnett’s contract to potential trade targets. There’s also the matter of using the available dollars to pursue an upgrade elsewhere, something else that is far from guaranteed. The gamblers among us would do well to bet on Burnett starting the season with navy blue pinstripes.

A.J. Burnett's Fifth Starter Case
It's Official: Montero & Noesi for Pineda & Campos is a done deal
  • ADam

    Going into ST with 7 starters is not a bad thing at all, Injuries and needs will come up for other teams and his value may/will increase. another point.. what happens if Hughes shoulder problems come back or even worse someone else gets injured, AJ is not a bad insurance policy at all. Yanks and Cash are right to be patient and see what pops up.

    • vin

      Agreed. Although I’m not sure it’s wise to build your roster with the assumption that someone will get hurt. Meaning, it’s probably a better allocation of their resources to try to deal AJ so that they can have either the personnel or the money to plug another hole – whether its an existing hole (DH) or one that pops up due to the inevitable injuries.

      Fundamentally, you’re right. There’s a decent chance that not all the starters will make it to opening day.

    • RetroRob


      I had to scroll to the top of the note thread to find the most reasonable response (not that many of the others below are not reasonable).

      Hughes might show up throwing 88 again like last Spring Training, Garcia may clutch his shoulder on his first outing, while AJ might be tossing 95. This is the opposite of last year where there didn’t seem to be enough starters. I’d rather have it this way.

  • CMP

    I like the Hafner option because he would actually fill a need and with Roberto Hernandez Heredia probably out the equation for the Indians this year, they look like they could use Burnett.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      It would be a cruel twist of fate if the real Fausto Carmona is a 19 year-old fireballer.

      • CMP

        More likely he’s a 50 year old with a big beer belly.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          Faustos tend to be that.

    • RetroRob

      The Indians are looking to add offense, not subtract it. Doesn’t look like an easy fit considering their needs.

  • Dale Mohorcic

    Burnett for Adam Dunn.

    • CMP

      They might be able to get more from the White Sox, after all Kenny Williams and son always seems to be ready and willing to help out New York.

    • Steve (different one)

      Not going to happen. Anyone signed beyond 2013 is a no go.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Agreed. I can’t see ADDING commitment to lose AJ. I’d rather just keep him on then.

    • RetroRob

      OMG, no. I’ll give AJ an extension before I’d take Adam Dunn.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    I think they keep him and have him perform odd jobs around the house (which may, or may not, include “fifth starter”) but, as craptaculous as the list of trade alternatives sounds, anyone whose contract expires earlier would be worth it for the Yankees. Whether the Twins, Astros, etc., are interested in the additional year of AJ is another question.

    I’d do Burnett/Bay, with Bay falling into the “DH Slop” role. Sure.

    • PinedaColada

      “odd jobs around the house” makes me picture Burnett as Mrs Doubtfire. I think he would make a good housekeeper.

      • Steve (different one)

        Especially the scene when she puts her face in a pie

  • Ethan

    Would it be worthwhile having a kind of 6 man rotation going? Pitch CC and Kuroda (maybe) on regular 5 day rest but give Nova and Pineda an odd day off every once in a while to ensure they remain effective throughout the entire season and to not have them overworked come the playoffs (assuming the yanks get there).

    • Robinson Tilapia

      There’s not an innings concern for either Nova or Pineda, so I’d say “no.”

  • A.Garcia

    Carlos Lee is the best option

  • Mike Myers

    I love the Lee trade. Fills the DH need and we only have him for 1 year. He could mash at the new york park, and he is in a contract year.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      He even kinda looks like DH slop. It’s the “one year” that entices me. I see no reason for Houston to do this, though, other than “They’re the Houston Astros. Why should they give a shit.”

    • John Ya Ya

      Lee still has value as a DH, although not in the $19 million range. Because of the shorter obligation I also don’t see Houston taking this, but it would be worth trying.

  • Steve (different one)

    Am I crazy or would anyone else do Burnett for Morneau in a cocaine heartbeat?? I guess the assumption is the yanks send $5m and it’s a perfect contract swap? I can’t see the twins doing that even acknowledging that Morneau might never recover from his concussions.

    • Thomas Cassidy

      Nah. His career is over. It’s a shame. He’s a pretty nice guy.

      • CMP

        Especially with Vincente Padilla on the Red Sux now. Morneau would have to come to bat wearing a suit of armor.

      • Steve (different one)

        Man, if the outlook is that grim, you are right, what a sad situation. I was just thinking that a semi healthy Morneau would destroy the short porch. That guy hit some bombs in the new stadium.

    • Reggie C.

      The commitment to Joe Mauer and aiding him return to form must be the impetus for any major personnel change. A move from catcher will probably help Mauer in getting back to at least 2010 form. 2009 just looks like a complete outlier, right?

      The only way a player swap bw Morneau and AJ would entice the Twins was if Cashman padded the deal with prospects. Good. Pitching. Prospects. I just dont see it happening.

      • Reggie C.

        By commitment… i mean coming from the Twins. Just re-read my post and that first sentence could be read as if the Yanks owe something to Mauer. Yikes.

        Obviously, the Twins made a your-the-franchise level commitment to Mauer, so anything that’ll keep Mauer healthy and productive has to guide roster decisions.

        • JAG

          Wouldn’t that suggest that moving Morneau would help them, since it would free up 1B for Mauer to play there instead of catching all the time?

  • nsalem

    I would keep AJ. I think he has a better chance of success in a more limited mop-up/swing/emergency starter role. The pressure will be off him. He has been healthy the last several years and he is an innings eater. Chances are probably greater that we will need an extra arm over the course of a season than the bat. I also don’t think he will be a disruptive force in a limited role as he plays out the string. This might not be the case with whoever we get back for him.

    • CMP

      If they kept Burnett, I actually think he could be a decent reliever. He might be able to get his fastball back up to 95-96 throwing as hard as he could for an inning at a time. I’m thinking a poor man’s (very very poor man’s) John Smoltz of a few years back.

    • Ted Nelson

      I don’t know… to me the big problem with Burnett is that he throws lollipops. He can be up 0-2 on a mediocre hitter, ready to get out of a jam, and then he just hangs a curve or throws a straight FB right in the middle of the plate that goes for an easy HR in any park. Maybe he can get it together in relief, but I’m not really sure his ERA will go down.

      As far as extra arms, I don’t know that Burnett is any better than the AAA options. I don’t know that any deal will work out for a big name/under-performing slugger, but I’d look into just dumping him for a modest savings and fringe prospect to see what’s out there.

  • RobertGKramer@AOL.Com

    I’m another supporter of AJ for Hafner!

  • Andrew Brotherton

    I think Carlos Lee would be the best target.

  • RobertGKramer@AOL.Com

    Here’s how Hafner and Morneau compare (2011 stats againts RHP only)
    Player – AVG – OBP – SLG – OPS – AB/R – AB/RBI – AB/SO
    Hafner – 0.302 – 0.404 – 0.482 – 0.886 – 7.93 – 5.84 – 4.11
    Morneau – 0.270 – 0.332 – 0.397 – 0.728 – 11.60 – 6.96 – 6.00

    Where AB/R=At Bats per Run AB/RBI=At Bats per RBI and AB/SO=At Bats per Strike Out.

    • Needed Pitching

      Hafner seems to make a lot of sense for the Yankees, but I don’t see how that deal makes sense for the Indians. They need to add offense. Burnett for Hafner would have them losing a middle of the order bat to gain a bad fifth starter.

      • RobertGKramer@AOL.Com

        Hafner’s health, and the Indian’s impatience with it might turn the trick. They also may have some young farm bats that are near ready.

  • NC Saint

    The money is a sunk cost, and not worth worrying about. The bottom line is that he is very unlikely to be the best option for the rotation, and there’s no reason to assume he’d be any good out of the pen.

    If we can get another team to eat even a tiny bit of that salary, I’d trade him for a case of beer, imported or domestic.

  • Eric

    Nice work Joe, as always. I don’t see Burnett as an analogous situation to Carlos Zambrano, where the Cubs ate basically his entire salary and got a young pitcher who was going to be released in return. Zambrano was a clubhouse cancer who fought with teammates and management, while by most accounts AJ gets along well with his teammates. The Yankees should not be as desperate to deal Burnett as the Cubs were to trade Zambrano.

    Unless there’s something of value coming back, in the form of a potential DH, or salary relief that allows the Yankees to pursue a useful piece, trading AJ out of spite doesn’t seem worth it. He could have some value out of the bullpen, and I would never object to keeping another durable, experienced starter around should injury strike the rotation.

  • Gonzo

    The reason people are talking up Pronk (I mentioned it a couple times over the past few days) is that we see Andruw DH’ing against LHP’s. Carlos Lee kills LHP’s, but he is very similar to Andruw Jones.

    I guess the Indians rather go with Slowey as a flyer though.

  • Matt DiBari

    I’ll never buy the “Don’t eat [x] amount of the salary” argument. The money is gone either way. It’s not somehow going to accrue interest if you allow him to continue pitching poorly for our team rather than shipping him off to any one on earth that will take him. Holding on to him instead of paying him to go away is little more than saving face.

    The team has shown almost no interest in taking him out of the rotation no matter how poorly he pitches, going for two months to a silly six man rotation that wound up helping no one rather than pull the plug. The Yankees are better off with him gone no matter the cost. Classic addition by subtraction.

    • Steve (different one)

      Except by keeping him in the rotation he was available and ready to (temporarily) save their ass in the playoffs. This is never brought up when people want to pile on Girardi for the 6 man rotation, esp considering that this site endorsed the idea before it started.

      With hindsight, the guy they should have pulled was Colon, since he eventually ran out of gas, but No one was saying that at the time.

      • Matt DiBari

        That’s assuming the only man that could have possibly put up a 5.2 IP 1 R 4 H 4 BB 3 K line in game four was AJ Burnett.

        Or it assumes that if they pulled Burnett when the bottom fell out (again) and let everyone pitch on normal rest they all still would have given you the same results and someone like Phil Hughes wouldn’t have been a viable option for game four.

  • Fin

    Is it possible the Yankees trade 2 of the three possible 5th starters. Say they traded Hughes to KC for Butler, then traded Freddy for salary dump. They wouldnt be bringing on extra money at that point with Butler, and I think the team would be stronger. This would also allow the guys in AAA to fill in as depth. I think AJ is fine as fifth starter, just nothing more.

    • Ted Nelson

      If you were the Royals would you trade Butler for Hughes?

      • Fin

        I just used that as an example, not really a trade proposal. As to the value of Hughes to Butler, I dont know what else would have to be thrown in, but its not like the DH position is carrying alot of value in MLB these days. Butler is an expensive player and not sure how many options the ROyals will have to trade him. My real point was the possiblity of trading 2 of 3 candiates and using AAA as depth.

    • RetroRob

      There’s no reason to trade two of the three. No team survives with five starters. If AJ is dumped, then be it Garcia in the rotation and Hughes in the pen, or the other way around, both will be required as starters over the course of the season. Remember, our sixth starter was going to be Noesi in AAA. Noesi is now gone. There are other options in AAA (many of them), but no reason to get rid of all the sixth starter options on the MLB roster.

  • mustang

    I like Lee and Hafner in that order, but I really don’t know why Houston would need AJ I guess they can use him as trade bit in July if he has a good year. I think I remember seeing somewhere that the Indians were asking about AJ so there might something there. It would nice to get AJ $$$ off table in time for next seasons ?Hamels/Cain sweepstakes. Love having this problem rather then the other one.

  • http://none Favrest

    Trade him to Seattle for Greg Halman

    • Jake


  • Ted Nelson

    They should also trade Burnett if they can do more with his roster spot. His contract is a sunk cost. Even in the bullpen they might be able to get a more reliable option out of their own system or on the cheap. AJ’s eating a roster spot that might be better used.

    I’m not saying that they have or will find that guy, just that it’s a possibility. Maybe a Kontos, maybe one of the Rule V guys… Burnett offers the additional rotation depth, but I’m not sure he’s any better an option than Phelps, Warren, Betances, Banuelos, or Mitchell.

    A similar or better use of the roster spot plus less than 1/3 savings on the roster could be a better situation for the Yankees than Burnett.

    • Plank

      Which of the 5 aces would you call up first?

  • Darren

    The whole “the money is a sunk cost” is great in theory. But it ignores the emotions involved. Even greedy soulless tapirs like the Steinbrenners don’t want to “throw money away.”

    Don’t you sometimes eat gross leftovers just so you can extract full value from them? Even though it would be much better for you (in taste and for your health) to simply eat something else?

    In short, AJ is a soggy two day old taco.

  • Yazman

    Joe, if AJ were a free agent, do you think he’d get 2 years/$11 million (i.e., what the other team would pay if the Yanks saved as much as you’re guessing).

    I was guessing more like 1 year/$4 million (or 2 years/$6 million). If my guess were right, the Yanks would have to eat more (even assuming they get nothing in return).

  • Samuel

    If the Yankees cannot swing a deal for Burnett by the end of Spring Training, the best option is to outright release the guy.

    Joe said:

    “…having Burnett pitch for the team, even in a reduced role, is preferable to paying him to pitch for another team.”

    Why? If Burnett is statistically the worst starting pitcher in baseball, why have him pitch any games for you? So you can lose games?

    I don’t care how much Burnett is being paid, he needs to be out of town. He is a bad pitcher, who will become increasingly tepremental if his role was ever reduced with the Yankees.

    • parmesan

      Why not try AJ in short relief before just releasing him? I think if Hughes comes to camp looking really strong — consistently throwing his FB 92-94 with some pop and showing a crisp CB — he provides the best upside for the Yankees to claim the #5 role. He’s the guy with the best shot to exceed expectations while providing great current and future value. Of course he might end up being just not very good, but it’s still the shot I take. I think Phil deserves one more. Freddy Garcia and Burnett can round out the rest of the bullpen.

      If Burnett sucks, then you consider releasing him…if you can’t pull off a trade. Hell, maybe he looks nasty blowing guys away with a rejuvenated fastball and the ridiculous hook, and he boosts his once meager value into into an intriguing spare part the Yanks will have amidst considerable bullpen depth. No doubt they’ll have to eat a lot of salary to move the guy regardless, but if AJ can look sharp in some capacity it might grease the skids a little.

      • Yazman

        Agree, AJ could rock for an inning or two if that were his focus.

  • RetroRob

    I wouldn’t trade AJ until they had other options for the rotation. I know some have difficulty believing AJ provided any value with his 5.00 ERAs the last two seasons, but having someone who has averaged 195 innings does provide a level of value that the Red Sox would have paid dearly for in September when their rotation fell apart, blowing out their pen.

    The Yankees no longer need AJ’s innings, so I suggest any money they get back would be a positive because from the Yankees perspective he is now officially a sunk cost, prevented from providing the single value he has over the past few seasons: innings. They get back $10 million, which equates to $14,212,500 million in real dollars when including the escalating luxury tax over the next two seasons. So the Yankees have to ask themselves will AJ provide more value in luxury tax threshold relief and $14 million-plus in real dollars, while also not blocking younger players off the roster, or can he provide more value as a guy pitching 70 inning (maybe) out of the pen.

    I say move him and don’t look at as paying $23 million to get rid of him, but getting back $14 million to get rid of him. No prospects required.

  • G

    I think we’re all forgetting just how good AJ’s veteran presents are. Any team would be lucky to have such a generous man in the clubhouse, just as long as they can lock him up in the basement like a gimp during games.

  • bonestock94

    I wouldn’t mind it if it’s a pure salary dump. I’d rather some of the AAA rookies get a look midseason than another mediocre Burnett season. I’d like to think Garcia, Hughes, and maybe a rookie could at least match the 1.5 WAR Burnett’s been worth the past couple of seasons.

  • bankers hours

    Lee is the best of these options but the Yanks would need to kick in some money. Lee’s owed 19m for 1 yr Burnettt 32 for 2. Lee would fit the DH role nicely. In a better lineup he could hit 280 with 20 plus hr’s and 80 to 100 rbi’s. Decent numbers for a dh and better than our dh’s did last year. Plus only one yr frees up the dh for when Arod can’t move anymore and play 3b.

  • dan scabet

    If A.J can get his head right he is still has the ability to win 15 to 18 games. i would not be shocked he he has a good year.

  • Philip

    Any thoughts of A.J. to the Dodgers for Loney and Lily? A.J. back to the NL and Dodgers dump two contracts. Yanks take chance on Loney’s bat in Yankee stadium and Lily as the number 5 and 2nd lefty in rotation.

  • LiterallyFigurative

    I’d do the AJ for Carlos Lee deal before any of the others. At least Lee isn’t coming off injury plagued, bad seasons like the Hafners and Morneaus. Plus he’s free after this season.