Early this morning, Tim Dierkes at MLB Trade Rumors wrote about the Yankees desire to trade AJ Burnett and made up a list of teams he thought might be good fits for the veteran righty. At the top, he put the team that’s been unsuccessfully trying to get a vetern right-handed starter to take their money for the last month now: the Pittsburgh Pirates. Shortly after that, Buster Olney openly ruminated that a Burnett-for-Garrett Jones swap might make sense for both sides. Right on the heels of that tweet, Ken Rosenthal mentioned that the Pirates have done their diligence on Burnett and that they’re not one of the ten teams that he can block a trade to.
All of this sort of begs the very obvious question: should the Pirates WANT TO trade for AJ Burnett? Burnett is owed $33 million over the next two years, he was pretty bad in 2010 and 2011, his fastball is flagging, he’s 35 years old, and even if his no-trade clause doesn’t block a deal to the Pirates it’s probably a pretty safe bet that he’d be disappointed by being moved from the Yankees to the Pirates. Those are the troublesome aspects of Burnett, but there are some high points to consider, too. The Yankees aren’t looking to save $33 million over the next two years, they’re just looking to trim enough money to flesh out the offensive part of the roster. Burnett’s rate stats were quite good last year and his high ERA was mostly driven by an insane HR/FB rate. His worst xFIP over the last is 4.49. The NL Central is running short on powerful hitters to take advantage of his existing home run problem. He can eat up innings at a reasonable rate. The Pirates seem to do a pretty good job of helping pitchers with control problems. He’s not Kevin Correia.
So would it be a good trade for the Pirates? It’s hard to say from here without knowing what the details would look like. The Pirates would be insane to pay Burnett more than $8-10 million per year for the next two years. They’d be insane to give up more in value for him than they gave up for, say, Yamaico Navarro or Derrek Lee (I’d be OK with the Jones swap, honestly, except that that deal requires a fairly high level of faith in Pedro Alvarez and Casey McGehee and I really can’t see any reason why you’d have that at this point in time). A depth minor leaguer who’s behind quite a few people on the Pirates’ depth chart with limited upside? Sure. Someone with even a bit more upside that could be more useful in a trade (say, Gorkys Hernandez) down the road? Definitely not. Which is to say that I’d trade Aaron Pribanic for Burnett, but not Gorkys Hernandez. I’d prefer a massive cash dump, to be honest.
But if the Pirates could get the Yankees to eat most of that cash and not have to give up much or anything? Yeah, I’d take a chance on AJ Burnett. There’s a good chance that it would be a move that ends in flames and tears, but what the heck? The Pirates need Major League arms in 2012, and Burnett’s got a better chance to at least be that than Correia or Jo-Jo Reyes do and if everything works out, he could be one of the club’s better starters.
For some reason, my link-making button is broken right now. Here are the links to the stories mentioned in the first paragraphs: