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February 20, 2012
Burnett the Bucco
The start to Burnett’s BP2011 comment says it all:
Dates all good Americans know by heart: July 4, 1776; December 7, 1941; November 22, 1963; and November 1, 2013, also known, respectively, as Independence Day, Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassination, and the approximate day that A.J. Burnett’s contract expires, celebrated in the Yankees' front office as Independence Day II.
After acquiring Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda, Brian Cashman had to move one of his other starters. The early favorites to be dealt were Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, and Freddy Garcia, since the idea that anyone would take on Burnett’s deal seemed nonsensical. Sure enough, though, Cashman found a partner and a compromise. Eating $20 million of the $33 million remaining on Burnett’s deal may not be ideal, but the Yankees can now use the savings to acquire a left-handed designated hitter and perhaps another bench piece. —R.J. Anderson
While the trade of A.J. Burnett was about jettisoning a problematic soap opera and saving $13 million dollars, the Yankees did receive a pair of prospects who, while not worthy of the Pirates’ top 20 prospects list, are at least somewhat intriguing.
Diego Moreno ranked ninth on the Pirates’ list 15 months ago, but his career has been hampered by injuries, suspensions for immature behavior, and lack of development. He's a wide-bodied right-hander with plus-plus velocity touching 98; he can throw strikes with the pitch, but that remains the sum of his abilities. For every plus slider he throws, he'll deliver three that just sweep across the plate, and his fastball lacks much in the way of deception or movement. He'll likely get to the big leagues at some point on his fastball alone, but it will take an unexpected step forward for him to make an impact.
20-year-old outfielder Exicardo Cayones belongs in a scene from Moneyball. What does he do? He gets on base. He has an advanced approach at the plate and a line-drive swing that should produce good batting averages, but it's hard to figure what he'll do around those skills. He has well below-average power and lacks the speed for center or the arm strength for right. Even if he puts up good numbers at Low-A Charleston this season—and that is a distinct possibility—his upside is limited. —Kevin Goldstein
Acquired RHP A.J. Burnett and cash from the Yankees for RHP Diego Moreno and OF-L Exicardo Cayones. [1/17]
Chuck LaMar once said that wins and losses were the only thing separating the Rays from being one of the league’s best franchises. In a similar vein, consistent results are the only thing separating Burnett from being one of the league’s best pitchers. The Pirates will be the latest team to attempt to excavate Burnett’s inner-ace on a start-to-start basis. It comes almost by necessity on Pittsburgh’s behalf; their best young arms are unprepared for the majors, and attempts to woo Edwin Jackson and Roy Oswalt failed. How do you fill a rotation after the best veteran arms on the free-agent market shun you? By getting creative.
Creativity, in this case, means taking on part of another team’s albatross. Though Burnett will receive $33 million over the next two seasons, the Pirates will be responsible for only $13 million of that sum, with the Yankees picking up the rest. The similarities between the deal that sent Derek Lowe to the Indians earlier in the offseason and this trade have made it a chic comparison. Despite contrasting styles—Burnett relies on strikeouts, Lowe on groundballs—the two have posted close to the same numbers in many categories since 2009:
Even PECOTA sees the resemblance and forecasts the two to post earned run averages of 4.60 (Lowe) and 4.62 (Burnett). The most notable difference between the two deals is how much money the new team is on the hook for, as the Indians will pay Lowe one-third of his $15 million salary in 2012 while the Pirates are picking up closer to 40 percent of Burnett’s tab. Why the difference? Some of it could be tied to the Pirates getting a pitcher with more upside, given Burnett’s strikeout rate.
A move away from the American League East and Yankees Stadium should help in Burnett’s quest, but anyone blaming all of his woes on the ballpark is ignoring reality. As the table below shows, Burnett managed a better earned run average, strikeout rate, and strikeout-to-walk ratio at home during his Yankees career, with a negligible difference in his home run rate given the sample size.
Whether Burnett can provide league-average (or better) performance is anyone’s guess. What seems more likely is that Burnett gives the Pirates an unusual strikeout total. Over the past three seasons, Burnett has averaged 171 strikeouts; should he reach that tally this season, it would rank as the fifth-highest in Pirates’ history since 1990, trailing just Ian Snell (177), Doug Drabek (177), Kris Benson (184), and Oliver Perez (239). —R.J. Anderson
R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @r_j_anderson