Today, the news we’ve been waiting for for the last week (some of us for much longer than that) finally came down the newswire. A.J. Burnett is no longer a New York Yankee. While I can honestly say I have no mixed feelings about this deal, I also don’t want to give the impression that i am not appreciative of the good things AJ did during his time on the Yanks. Here’s my breakdown of the trade, and my goodbye to AJ.
We’d heard various incarnations of this rumor every day since Monday. First, AJ was going to the Pirates for cap relief and Garrett Jones. I thought this was great. It is well known that the Yankees are in the market for a left-handed-hitting DH to platoon with Andruw Jones and whichever right-handed old guy (Jeter or A-Rod) needs a half day off this season. Garrett Jones would fit this bill perfectly. His first two seasons have been spent platooning against righties, whom he crushes handily (.275/.354/.483 with 46 career home runs). Unfortunately, Brian Cashman doesn’t have naked pictures of Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington, so the Pirates rejected that (I mean really. that would have been absurd).
The next rumor to come up was that the Indians were now in on the discussion, offering up none other than Travis “Pronk” Hafner. Hafner also seems to meet the Yankees needs. He’s a big, powerful left-handed hitting DH, after all. The problem with this trade is that, if the Yankees are looking to shed payroll, adding Pronk probably isn’t the best idea. He’s due to make at least $15.75MM over the next two seasons. That, and the fact that he’s 34 and can barely even play 90 games a year, made me glad when this rumored deal also fell through.
Suddenly, word came out about another rumored deal that was rejected by Burnett himself (he has a limited no-trade clause). In this rumor, AJ was on his way to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (Angels Anaheim Angeles of Los Anagels), in exchange for former Yankee right-fielder Bobby “El Comedulce” Abreu. I like Bobby, but I was kind of glad this deal didn’t go through. His power all but disappeared last season (only 8 home runs all year) and his average dipped into the .250s. This is not a good sign for a 38-year-old player.
After rumors of the suddenly always successful “mystery team” (the mystery team has signed Cliff Lee and Albert Pujols the last two off-seasons) came and went, the Yankees and Pirates finally agreed on a deal. In this trade, the Pirates get AJ Burnett, and the Yankees get two low-grade prospects, Diego Moreno and Exicardo Cayones. The Pirates also agreed to take on $20MM of the remaining $33M on AJ’s contract. This trade couldn’t be better for either team.
While the Yankees don’t get the left-handed DH they really need, they free up enough money to allow them to sign likely targets Eric Chavez and (sigh) Raúl Ibañez. Chavez will return to the role he held last season, which is to provide a quality backup to Alex Rodriguez and a solid left-handed pinch hitter on the bench. Ibañez (or hopefully someone else who isn’t 40) slips right into that lefty DH role. Despite his age and overall slip in play, Ibañez still showed he could hit righties last season, as he finished with a .256/.307/.440 slash line with 16 home runs in 402 at bats against them. He can also play the field from time to time a lot better than Johnny Damon or Bobby Abreu can.
The Yankees also get two fringe prospects who might some day develop into useful pieces. Diego Moreno is a big right-hander whose fastball has been clocked in the upper 90s. Control and maturity issues (he was suspended in 2010 for making out with a fan in the bullpen) have kind of derailed his development, but if you can throw 100 mph, you could some day help a team win. A scouting report I read on Exicardo Cayones wasn’t as promising, but the Yankees can always use him to fill lower level minor league rosters (someone has ride the bench in Tampa).
Finally, the Yankees free up a spot in their very crowded starting rotation. Last month, Brian Cashman stormed the league’s castle on his mighty steed and picked up 22-year old Michael Pineda in a trade and 37-year old Hiroki Kuroda via free agency, within an hour of each other. This left the Yankees rotation (the much maligned Yankees rotation) suddenly overflowing with talent. This spring, fans would have witnessed Burnette fight for the fifth starter spot against both Phil Hughes and Freddy García. Now, manager Joe Girardi has one less guy to worry about, and one more open slot for 2013 when Manny Banuelos and Delin Betances are ready to shine.
The Pirates, meanwhile, gain a level of respectability from this trade. Sure, Burnett’s stats have been pretty terrible the last two seasons, but he’s still an established Major League pitcher making a good amount of money. When’s the last time the Pirates traded for someone like that instead of shipping someone like that out of town? Burnett should also see some improvement in his performance in 2012, if only because he’s out of the American League East and now facing a much weaker National League Central (and the pitcher a few times per game). He will also bring a veteran presence of sorts to a very young clubhouse, so Pirates fans should be proud of their team for making this deal. At least they seem to be trying to win, and they didn’t cave in to the Yankees demands for Garrett Jones.
So what kind of legacy is AJ Burnett leaving as he departs the Bronx? That’s where it gets a little tricky. The Yankees signed Burnett to a five-year, $82.5MM contract after the 2008 season. They slotted him in as their number two starter, and he delivered, and even pitched a couple of big games in the post season in 2009. With the help of Burnett and fellow free agent picks Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia, the Yankees won the World Series in Burnett’s first season in pinstripes. That’s no small feat, and it’s also something that I will never forget (AJ won a world series game… that’s huge).
In fact, in game two of that World Series, he pitched seven innings, allowing only one run on four hits and striking out nine Phillies. This tied the series up at one game apiece, and brought momentum back to the Yankees. They’d go on to win the series in four games (AJ did not pitch well in his other WS start). Without that big performance, maybe there wouldn’t have been a parade down the Canyon of Heroes in 2009. Oh, he also invented the whole shaving cream pie after a walk-off win thing that the Yankees do now, so that’s good. Sadly for AJ, that’s about all the positives we can take from his run with the Yankees.
In the two years since the World Series, he’s had good runs here and there, but finished both seasons with an ERA over five. I know ERA and WHIP are no longer considered the end all be all of statistics, but there’s no way to put a positive spin on that kind of ERA. To go along with his terrible performance on the field, AJ hasn’t exactly been great for the clubhouse the last two seasons (at least publicly). He was part of the whole anti-Posada’s game-calling movement that started in 2010, he cut his hands by attacking a glass clubhouse door, and he even showed up with a mysterious black eye at one point two years ago. He also allegedly did not get along very well with Yankees manager Joe Girardi.
So, when you couple his complete ineffectiveness over the last two seasons with his dwindling clubhouse presence and self-destructive behavior, it’s difficult to see too many negatives in this trade from a Yankees fan point of view. Thanks for the World Series, AJ, and thanks for your ALDS performance last year. Most of all, however, thanks for not rejecting the trade to Pittsburgh. So long, AJ. It’s been real, it’s been fun… and so on.
ALDS image courtesy of: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE
Girardi image courtesy of: Mike Carlson/AP
Moreno image courtesy of: http://players.piratesprospects.com/
Blond image courtesy of: Jamie Squire/Getty Images
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