After nearly a week of heavy talks between the New York Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates, starting pitcher A.J. Burnett has finally been traded to the Steel City. The Pirates will have to pay $13 million of Burnett’s $33 million dollar contract over the next two seasons, and they will flip prospects Exicardo Cayones and Diego Moreno to the Yankees. The Buccos will pay Burnett $5 million this season and $8 million next season, and the 35-year-old was worth about $6.7 million in WAR last season. Multiply that by two, and the result is $13.4 million.
The Pirates have been trying to acquire a veteran starter and were interested in Edwin Jackson and even Roy Oswalt. They have now acquired one on the cheap, and Burnett was worth 3 WAR as recently as three seasons ago. The much-maligned starter will most likely never be that good again, but he is still about a 1.5 WAR pitcher who can provide value to a young ballclub.
Exicardo Cayones may have a great name, but his projected line as a Major Leaguer, based on his underwhelming minor league statistics, is .182/.244/.245. Cayones has a career .372 OBP in the minors and has a great eye, but he has absolutely no power and can’t field. There is a chance that he dramatically develops into something significant, but all he has is upside at this point. He probably won’t make it to the Majors.
Based on his minor league numbers, right-hander Diego Moreno would have had a 6.9 K/9 and a 4.3 BB/9 as a Major League pitcher. In 194 minor league innings, Moreno has a 2.41 ERA, but his FIP totals show that some luck has been in play for him. Moreno is a definitely a better prospect than Cayones, but his upside is as an MLB middle reliever.
Diego Moreno is actually a decent prospect, because his fastball can hit 98 miles per hour, and he has a deceptive changeup to compliment that gas. However, he lacks a breaking ball and fell out of favor with the organization. If things turn around in his new surroundings, Moreno could be a middle reliever. He’s not a significant prospect, but unlike Cayones, he has a legitimate chance at providing future value for the Yankees. Neither of them are likely to make the Majors, which makes this deal favorable from the Pirates point of view.
For the Yanks, this deal was easy to make and was the obvious move for the organization. A.J. Burnett was expendable and didn’t come close to warranting his contract, and the team has saved $13 million on a pitcher who most likely would not have contributed in 2012. It’s difficult to eat up a significant portion of a player’s salary, but that’s what happens when mistakes are made. Credit the Yankees for not acting like most other Major League clubs and playing an overpaid player solely because he is paid so much. The club has moved on, and Burnett has done the same. The prospects are mere bonuses in a contract dump.
Neither of the two prospects fit into the Pittsburgh Pirates future plans, and the only significant piece- Moreno- has arm troubles and was suspended at one point during the season. The team did not even protect him in the Rule 5 draft and did not want to keep him on the team any longer than they had to. It is almost as if the Pirates made a minor player dump as well.
For the next two seasons, A.J. Burnett should be viewed as a 1.4 WAR starter (2.8 WAR combined) and still has the chance to be a league-average pitcher again in Pittsburgh. Burnett will most likely be the team’s #2 starter next season, behind 2.2 WAR pitcher Charlie Morton. 1.4 WAR starters are worth about $6.5 million a year, which is what the Pirates are paying on average.
Although they gave up prospects in this deal, the Pirates made a solid acquisition. Their rotation needed another starter who can produce, and they acquired a veteran. He might not help the young pitchers develop, but the Pirates were at least able to obtain a pitcher who is one of the best in their rotation right now. Just because a team is rebuilding doesn’t mean that they can’t stand to improve their roster by acquiring a veteran starter. The Pirates have him under a market value deal, and A.J. Burnett can improve in a comparatively easier league, ballpark, and division in the NL Central. The losses of Diego Moreno and Exicardo Cayones are nothing to lose sleep over, and both teams should be happy with the end result of this trade. A.J. Burnett misses bats, and he has upside in a better situation for a pitcher in Pittsburgh than in New York. A 2 WAR season is definitely within the realm of possibility, but Burnett is 35 and has a higher floor than ceiling in terms of true talent level.
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