Oct 4, 2011; Detroit, MI, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher A.J. Burnett walks back to the dugout after being relieved in the sixth inning in game four of the 2011 ALDS against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

New York Yankees trade A.J. Burnett to Pittsburgh Pirates Analysis

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.

Be sure to check out all of Call to the Pen’s transaction breakdowns for the 2011-12 offseason. You can follow Call to the Pen on Twitter at @FSCalltothePen or like us here on Facebook.

Follow Joe Soriano on Twitter here, and be sure to check back on Call to the Pen for season previews of every team, including the Pittsburgh Pirates. Check out Rum Bunter for everything about the Pirates.


Tags: A.J. Burnett Charlie Morton Diego Moreno Edwin Jackson Exicardo Cayones New York Yankees Pittsburgh Pirates Roy Oswalt

  • clarkbar213

    From a Yankees fan’s perspective, I think you are spot-on. I would have loved to see Pittsburgh pay more of Burnett’s contract (and that is what the holdup was in this deal), but given the fact that the Yanks are saving $13M over the next two years they are still in a better position without A.J. than they were with him. Couple that with the fact that Burnett would have had to compete with both Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes for the 5th starter spot and I think this trade was a no-brainer.

  • http://calltothepen.com/ SorianoJoe

    @clarkbar213 Thanks for commenting Robbie! The thing is, the Yankees, in a sense, received free money. As you stated, the Yanks already had their rotation filled up with the acquisitions of Kuo and Pineda, so Burnett’s large contract was expendable. The Yankees saved at least $10 million in terms of overall value by making this move. At least. Moreno has potential and should do better in NY- the Pirates hated him- but the prospects don’t really matter. It’s all about getting rid of Burnett.

  • The5_5Hole

    I think this is a fantastic move by the Pirates and is being undervalued by most. You do a good job of pointing out why it works, but I think most people are over looking just what Burnett can bring at the price the Pirates paid.

  • http://calltothepen.com/ SorianoJoe

    @The5_5Hole Undervalued? To what extent? Burnett is 35 years old and is coming off of two subpar seasons. His realistic upside is as a league average No. 2 starter. This is one of those instances, however, where we have to forget about WAR/$ and focus on the fact that the Pirates made an enormous upgrade to their pitching staff. Burnett is a better No. 2 than former Yankee Jeff Karstens, right? I think it’s a good move for the Pirates (obviously good for the Yanks as well), because they didn’t like either of those two prospects and just added a veteran starter that they craved to acquire for about a month or so. Can’t fault the Pirates for this, but Burnett isn’t undevalued and this isn’t a fantastic trade for the Pirates.

    He has value on a $6.5 million deal, but that’s around or slightly below his market value, to the point where the difference is negligible. Good move for both teams, but I would never call this spectacular for either side. On the one hand it’s a salary dump for the Yanks- hardly fantastic for them given the two prospects involved, though I know you weren’t implying that- and it was just the acquisition of a slightly below average veteran who fills a need for the Pirates. Again, solid but unspectacular. However, these sorts of moves are nice for the fans and help the team little by little. Savvy move for the Pirates, which shows that Neil Huntington does indeed know what he is doing. Thanks for commenting Justin, and I always appreciate your insight.

  • The5_5Hole

    @SorianoJoe You hit it there at the end of you comment. It’s a savvy move by the Pirates. As I mentioned in my piece this was a move that will show the fans the Pirates want to compete. That’s what I meant by undervalued. People are going to look at Burnett’s age and ERA last season and assume this is a so-so deal, but it’s a veteran starter for a solid price who can still strike dudes out. Check out the numbers I threw out in my article.

  • The5_5Hole

    @SorianoJoe I did not mean the Yankees undervalue him or that Burnett is undervalued. I’m talking about the trade as a whole.

  • http://calltothepen.com/ SorianoJoe

    @The5_5Hole True that, he can still strike dudes out haha. It was a good deal, and I will agree that it is undervalued by those who think Burnett is a scrub. He’s not.

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  • jagillis

    Dueces AJ.. get that paper and enjoy.. i rooted for you in NYC

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