Making sense of the Burnett trade talk

An elegy for Allan James
The Importance of Frankie Cervelli
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

The last few days have been abuzz with news about a potential trade involving A.J. Burnett, most likely to the Pirates with the Yankee saving anywhere from $8-15M over the next two years. Reports made it sound as if a trade was imminent, but instead they insisted nothing was close. If a trade is made, I have to think it would get done this week, before pitchers and catchers officially report to camp on Sunday (the Pirates report on Friday). No one wants this to drag out and have it be a distraction in Spring Training.

Currently stuck in a three-man battle for the fifth starter’s spot, there are certainly some valid reasons to keep Burnett and use him in that role. His strikeout (8.18 K/9 and 20.7 K%) and ground ball (49.2%) rates improved considerably last year (6.99 K/9 and 17.5 K% with a 44.9 GB% in 2010), and his outrageous homerun rate (1.47 HR/9 and 17.0% HR/FB) should rebound only because no one has ever given up one homer for every six fly balls over an extended period of time. Burnett’s 3.86 xFIP in 2011 paints a much rosier picture than his 5.15 ERA, but you have to be careful with xFIP because it assumes a pitcher should have a league average homerun rate (10.6% HR/FB). That part is simply not true; pitchers give up homers at different rates. From 2006-2010 (his time in the AL excluding last season), approximately 11.9% of Burnett’s fly balls left the yard, more than the average.

That said, the difference between A.J.’s homer rate and the league average isn’t huge, but we should probably adjust our expectations a bit and not take the xFIP data as gospel. Don’t get me wrong, if the homer rate comes down he’ll make for a damn fine fifth starter. The question the Yankees have to ask themselves is whether they think Burnett can actually pitch to his xFIP over the next two years, and if they’re willing to gamble $33M to find out. Given the trade talks, the answer is pretty clearly no. At age 35, it’s reasonable to expect Burnett to get worse over the next two seasons, not better. This could very well be their last chance to unload (part of) his contract, because if they keep him and he does decline further this coming year, they’ll have no chance to trade him, not for anything close to the kind of salary relief they’re looking at right now anyway.

Just the fact that they’re talking about dealing Burnett — who’s turned into a workhorse that takes the ball every fifth day regularly — tells you the Yankees are confident in their pitching depth. Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes are more than qualified to hold down the final spot in the big league rotation, and the minor league backups include David Phelps, D.J. Mitchell, and Adam Warren, probably in that order. Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances are a little further away but should be able to step in at midseason if things go reasonably according to plan. There won’t be any Tim Reddings or Darrell Mays coming to town this year unless something many things have gone horribly, horribly wrong. Simply entertaining the notion of dealing A.J. is a vote of confidence in the kids.

The Yankees know Burnett better than any of us, and appear to have decided that trading him and using the cost savings to fill out the remaining holes on the roster — backup infielder, left-handed DH, maybe a second lefty reliever? — is better than keeping him around in some capacity. I think A.J. could be a pretty effective one-inning reliever for reasons Joe outlined last year, but the club isn’t exactly hurting for bullpen help either. Eating all that money to move the last two years of Burnett’s contract is a tough pill to swallow (especially since he’s in no way a jerk or an unpleasant person), but I do believe trading him and getting out from under as much of the contract as possible is the right move at the moment. Using the extra money to improve other aspects of the roster is icing on the cake.

An elegy for Allan James
The Importance of Frankie Cervelli
  • Stephen

    They wouldn’t gambling $33 million to find out–they’d be gambling $10 million, or whatever it is the Pirates are willing to take on. It sucks they are paying A.J. so much money, but it is a sunk cost. I, for one, wouldn’t mind gambling $10 million that his home run rate drops from that outageous plateau.

    With that said, I also wouldn’t mind if they did trade him and got $10-15 million of salary relief. I think this is pretty much a no-lose situation.

    • Rookie

      Exactly, Stephen. The Yankees aren’t risking $33 million, but whatever the Pirates are willing to take on — much closer to $10 million.

      And there are three thing the Yankees DO know:

      (1) The supply of pitchers at this point in the season, before anyone turns out to still be injured, gets injured, or just pitches ineffectively, is at its high point for the year.

      (2) The demand for pitchers, with teams having already pursued their priorities and some options like Oswalt remaining available, is at a low point.

      and, therefore,

      (3) The value of pitchers in trade is at the absolute low point for the year.

      If the idea is to get as much as possible for Burnett or any other pitcher in trade, this is the worst possible time to trade him.

      On the other hand, if they think he sucks, and the fact he sucks will only become more obvious with the passage of time, then that’s another story. But otherwise…

  • STONE COLD Austin Romine

    More like “icing on the shaving cream pie”. Wokka wokka wokka !!

  • Cris Pengiucci

    I don’t think he’d (Hughes) return much more than Hughes AJ.

    Fixed. Not getting my points across well this morning. More Coffee!!!

    • Cris Pengiucci

      This was a reply to a post of mine in the previous article. And I know exactly how I caused it to post here.

      • Joe Pawlikowski

        Was it because you hit the “cancel reply” button at some point? That seems to cause issues.

        • Cris Pengiucci

          No. After typing my reply, I hit the “reply” button to the comment I was typing. Then I hit the submit button. I noticed this a little while back and was about 95% sure that was the cause. This is the first time I’ve done it since then and I’m now 100% sure that was the cause for me.

  • Professor Longnose

    Is it really necessary to sign a lefty DH now? Give Branyon et al shots at it, and keep the saved bucks around for a possible deadline move.

    • Jonathan

      Branyan has serious health and performance issues and we don’t have another option as a lefty DH unless you put Dickerson in the OF and has Swisher DH. Signing Damon or Ibanez for a couple of million seems like a pretty good idea.

    • CJ

      Acquire a DH? Yes. I like the Seth Smith idea, maybe he’s available with Cespedes on board. I dont believe reports that Pitt refuses to part with Jones, that could still happen.

    • CJ

      Read Vlad still petitioning for DH. Imagine Vlad on an incentive deal? Scary. The more he hits, the more he plays for pay. That man was born to hit.

      • Mike Myers

        correction. Vlad WAS born to hit. he is now born to have achy knees.

  • CountryClub

    Honestly, I’m surprised that the Yanks haven’t pulled the trigger already. I don’t understand how they think they can get considerable salary relief AND a legit prospect in return. In my mind, it should be one or the other.

    But, if there really are 3 or 4 teams that are interested maybe Cash will somehow come out of this with both. personally, if you told me that the Yanks could trade AJ and get 10 mil back I would have jumped all over it (and I think they should too).

  • CJ

    I agree with every single point made in this piece. Doesnt it seem impossible for AJ to play for the Yankees at this point?

  • viridiana

    Would much prefer a useful player and reduced salary “relief.’
    Yanks have many position holes developing over next couple of years. This is opportunity to at least land one useful piece, preferably an outfielder. If Yanks have to throw in a prospect of their own to get someone who addresses team needs, that would be fine too. It’s not my money, of course, but it would seem both Bucs and Yanks would have interest in deal which requires Bucs to pay say $8 mill but throw in position prospect or player that can help.

  • Jonathan

    How much does everyone think it would cost to sign Chavez/Damon/the inevitable Mike Gonzalez?

    • CJ

      Oh I was thinking the same thing about the “inevitable” mike Gonzalez signing. As soon as Cashman gets some AJ salary relief I can see him spending it on another lefty reliever mike Gonzalez.

      • Jonathan

        I’m thinking the same deal for Chavez as last year($1.5MM MiLB deal but if he’s healthy he’s on the team. Just some insurance for his injury history). $2.5MM MLB deal for Johnny TOPS. And I’d be all for Gonzalez at like $1MM or so..just not another 3 yr/12MM standard overrated LOOGY contract. A pen of Mo/Robertson/Soriano/Chamberlain/Logan/Gonzalez/Wade/Hughes or Freddy (whoever loses the 5th man spot) would be DEVASTATING in the playoffs. I know that’s 7 guys but Joba will miss a few weeks and I’m guessing Soriano will too.

        C Martin
        1B Tex
        2B Cano
        3B ARod
        SS Jeter
        LF Gardner
        CF Granderson
        RF Swisher
        DH Andruw/Johnny platoon

        SP CC
        SP Pineda
        SP Kuroda
        SP Nova
        SP Hughes/Garcia

        CL Rivera
        RP Robertson
        RP Soriano
        RP Wade
        RP Logan
        RP Gonzalez
        RP Hughes/Garcia

        BN Cervelli
        BN Nunez
        BN Chavez

        That’s what I’d like to see if Johnny and Gonzalez take reasonable deals. Maybe we can get a package deal like Tampa did last year. After ARod and Soriano’s contracts he owes us.

        • CJ

          Sorry dude, but why do you have to remind us that Cano is the starting 2B, jeter is a shortstop, CC is the ace and Mo will close to discuss a second lefty in pen and bench?

          • Jonathan

            Really? I was breaking down how it’d all fit for the 25 man roster for myself and just left it in. I’m sorry you need a hug so bad that it somehow bothered you. I think you’ll find that if you pull that big stick out of your ass it won’t bother you as much.

  • Graig not Craig

    I can see how a NL team would think he is worth 10 milion. Maybe he will get over some of his notorious head issues if he has a chance to step away from the NY media circus. With the incentive of working toward a new contract in 2014, and with a fresh set of eyes (a new pitching coach) he may settle down a bit and figure out how to control his stuff.

    I do agree that his time with the Yankees should be over and out.

    • gc

      I never got the sense that Burnett had any major problems dealing with the media in New York.

    • jsbrendog

      there are no notorious head issues. that is a made up thing by the fans/media. the guy’s stuff is diminished and he hasn’t learned ow to dealwith it. for god sakes

      • Bubba

        While i’ll agree that his stuff is diminished, there have been plenty of times when AJ’s cruising until something small goes wrong and then an implosion. That’s a melon issue.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          Or it’s an issue of a pitcher who got by the majority of his career blowing batters by who never quite figured out how to regain control of what he’s throwing until it’s too late when he loses such control.

          People love to play amateur psychologist on here. I wonder if I could actually count the number of commenters on here with actual mental health experience utilizing more than one finger.

          • Bubba

            “who never quite figured out”

            What do we used to figure things out… wait for it… our brain. A mental issue. I don’t know if AJ has any psychological issues nor am I implying that he does.

            Observation leads me to believe that he has difficulty making adjustments. Maybe AJ is more of a thrower than a pitcher.

            • Graig not Craig

              “What do we used to figure things out… wait for it… our brain. A mental issue.”

              Exactly what I meant by “notorious head issues” to begin with. I wasn’t saying there is anything wrong with him psychologically. What I meant by head issues is that he still has a good arm, decent mechanics, and above average stuff. He proves it at times. What breaks down, in my opinion, is his capacity to think through situations and choose the best options on the mound. He gets rattled – and it gets worse. These are head issues. As far as the media – I have no proof the media bothers him. But, if he reads half of the stuff written about him, its gotta take some sort of toll on him – as opposed to a smaller market where expectations might be lower and he could hide more effectively.

  • pacman

    pull the trigger…get some money back, get 2 minor league guys and sign damon…love our ml pitching depth…

  • Robinson Tilapia

    I can understand the team trying to get the most possible talent-wise, considering how much salary they’re eating. Until a deal doesn’t get done, this all seems like due diligence to me.

    • CJ

      Not exactly a secret ninja move at this point. Not that AJ is a bad guy but he does have a “personality” that may make it difficult for him to pitch for Yankees at this point. Or, he could return with a chip on his shoulder and get better. Who knows? AJ is unpredictable to say the least.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        How is he unpredictable? The guy knows when he’s pitching badly and hates being taken out of games. Dude will stay in games, if you ask him to, even if he’s getting shelled (and has saved the bullpen by going 7/8 innings on some less-than-grand outings.) To me, he’s a competitor who’s always had trouble adjusting his game but now has to due to his age and diminished skills in order to survive. AJ’s not a character concern to me. He’s an eroding skills concern.

  • Mike HC

    Instead of trading AJ for 10-14 million and 2 minor leaguers we don’t really want, then using the money saved to sign Damon (or a DH like him), why not eat all of AJ’s contract, and try to trade him for a player we like more, or has more value than Damon. I don’t know if that is realistic, but if we are going to end up spending the same amount of money anyway, I would think it possible to find a hitter we like better than Damon (or younger and more team control) if we eat all of AJ’s contract, or maybe all but 1-2 million.

    • Juke Early

      I’m with you Mike. A real salary dump is one thing. This just feels weak.

      • Mike HC

        Agreed, I would think if we negotiated a buyout, allowing him to become a free agent, we would be able to get 5-10 million back, maybe more even. So basically, the price of not buying AJ out is two minor leaguers that have no future with the team and little trade value and maybe a couple extra million at most?

        Definitely feels weak to me too. But it is all nitpicking because regardless of what we do with AJ, the Yanks are looking good for now and the future.

    • Jonathan

      That doesn’t make sense though. Damon is only going to be a couple of million at the most. So we aren’t going to spend nearly the same amount. We could end up with Damon and $10MM+ in savings. We’d be saving $10-14 million and spending $1-3. I think they already tried that with Garret Jones but the money issue doesn’t add up. AJ isn’t going to bring you a player you want. I don’t think they need to deal him to bring in Damon either. I think this is just their last chance to trade AJ and they’re pouncing on the opportunity now that we have actual depth with 6 MLB starters and a AAA rotation full of guys ready to fill in immediately (Phelps/Warren/Mitchell) or midseason to next year (Betances/Banuelos).

      • Mike HC

        I was assuming Damon would cost 5 million, and then we would pay another guy 5 million to DH next year, spending 10 million on DH’s with the money saved from AJ over the next two years. Seems like if we only get back a couple of million, and the player we get in return is more a more valuable piece than those 5 million aging DH types, it is worth it. Again, like you say, maybe no team is going to give up a legit player or prospect no matter how much the Yanks eat in salary, in which case my entire point is moot.

        I do agree in general that the decision to trade AJ should not really have any impact getting another DH bat, but it does seem like Cashman and Yanks have tied the two together. But again, your point that we should be looking at the AJ deal irrespective of any DH talk definitely makes sense.

        • Havok9120

          Not only that, but if Johnny wants 5 million, let him walk. I wouldn’t mind a JD comeback tour, but I don’t want to overpay. Especially since a part of what we’re paying for is the expectation that the short porch will bump his numbers.

  • paul a

    I would like to see him traded to the Indians for Travis Hafner.At least we would be getting a useful body in return.

    • Kosmo

      Cleveland just signed Jon Garland so IMO less likely a Burnett for Hafner deal would ever go down. Besides how would that trade be structured ?

  • Bronx Byte

    The gold and black of a Pirate uniform will make Burnett’s tattoos look better.
    C’mon Cashman do the deal before its too late. Pull the trigger.

  • CountryClub

    Ken Rosenthal @Ken_Rosenthal

    Interestingly, some #Yankees people oppose trading Burnett, believing team could get more at deadline. #MLB

    • STONE COLD Austin Romine

      I agree

      • radnom

        That means half a year of him in the rotation over better pitchers. Pass.

        Hopefully leaking that was just a negotiating tactic.

      • Rookie

        Again, I agree, too.

      • Havok9120

        Normally, I’d agree. Especially since I really do think AJ can figure it out and at least be effective.

        The thing is, we can’t have our cake and eat it too in this case. If AJ gets a spot on the roster (or, worse, a spot in the rotation) he’s taking that spot away from someone else. We’ve been clamoring for Hughes to get a shot. We’ve been shouting for YEARS that the minor league arms need to get a shot. These things can’t happen with AJ sitting on the roster. Especially since you’d almost have to stick him in the rotation to buff his trade value significantly.

  • JoeyA

    If Burnett gets dealt, doesnt that all but ensure Freddy is gonna be #5.

    1. small sample size for Hughes in ST will be what they point to if Phil outperforms Freddy, citing Freddy’s veteran status and last years performance.

    2. Hughes has an option – I think – while Freddy cant be sent down.

    3. Freddy cannot pitch in the bullpen due to his long warm-up, while Hughes, well, need I say more…

    4. Freddy cannot be traded due to him being a FA signing. I dont know the exact rules surrounding this, but, in summation….

    There are many factors working against Hughes,the main ones revolving around roster flexibility. If they choose hughes as #5, they essentially have to cut Freddy.

    Am I missing something?

    • RkyMtnYank

      Nope, and cutting Freddy would be fine since signing him that early seemed a bit silly. If Hughes looks descent at all then he should definitely get the spot.
      I do think Freddy will be fine out of the bullpen though, not sure why people don’t think so, it’s not that bad when you don’t have to warm up to throw 98mph.

      • JoeyA

        Folks smarter than me can explain it better, but from everything I’ve read…

        Since Freddy has had work done on his arm through the years, it takes him a lot longer to get his arm warm and ready to pitch than, say, a 25 yr old.

        So to have him in the BP, even as a long man, limits Joe’s in-game flexibility and, simply put, is undesirable.

        Again, not my analysis, just things ive heard on this blog and read

        • Captain

          no that is something you usually hear about long time starters moving to the bullpen, especially guys on the wrong side of 30.

  • LarryM.,Fl.

    I would not take the chance of blowing the savings of 10-15 million dollars which will be used to sure up some spots on the 25 man roster. AJ is a distraction to the team. His presence in the rotation or in the bullpen distracts in the respect that in the rotation, he’s there because of is salary if he’s in the bullpen than he’s there because he can’t start anymore making 16.5 million for an inning work.

    He needs to go. The Yanks will sign one year agreements with whoever the DH or 3rd base insurance is. They will take the AJ savings and use it for whatever in 2013. Getting closer to the 189 budget by 2014.

    Just do it, Brian.

  • Max

    Ok, here’s a “your trade proposal is stupid” trade proposal:

    Burnett, Hughes, and Gardner for McCutchen and about $6mm.

    Who hangs up first?

    • Joe Pawlikowski

      The Pirates hang up so fast it’d make your head spin.

      • Max

        noted. I figured as much, but I thought there was an argument to be made for Gardner’s WAR/”best defender in the game”

        • craig

          Joe – any thoughts on Kendry Morales to be the DH? Not likely, but I would like to know what you think about it.

  • Foghorn Leghorn

    I’m a fan of AJs…always have been. I think it has to do with the “great stuff” that he has and that he has the potential to be completely dominant.

    Problems are that he can’t harness it and he’s way overpaid. You can’t hate him for the contract – the Yanks offered it. He’s paid like a #1 to be the number 2 but pitches like a #4. If he was paid between $7-$10MM people wouldn’t be so upset about it.

    I’ve always been amazed at how close he and Beckett (and Lackey) are with respect to careet stats. AJ has falled back a bit in the last two years, but their stats are not far off from each other. Yet, Beckett is viewed as an ace and AJ is viewed as a sideshow clown.

    • Foghorn Leghorn

      sorry…career not careet and fallen not falled…

  • CJ

    Rosenthal reports Angels are interested in AJ. Oh no, here comes the Abreu-AJ talks. Imagine AJ goes to Angels and beats the Yanks in playoffs, NL please.

    • I Live In My Mom’s Basement

      West coast team– on AJ’s “no-trade” list.

  • AJavierkei Pavagawnett

    Thank you for this post.

    I hate xFIP.

    All balls in play are not the same, and whether a fly ball ends up being a home run in not just a random occurrence.

    Many excellent pitchers will have HR/FB rates around 5-6% year after year, and many pitchers will give up home runs at >10% over the course of their career.

    I don’t know why people fell in love with xFIP, but it’s such a stupid stat.

    Good pitches are harder to hit for a home run, even if you’ve hit them in play as a fly ball.

    I’ll take Sweaty Freddy and his xFIP of 4.36 last year over Burnett any day.