Pittsburgh Pirates Agree on A.J. Burnett Trade From New York Yankees

By Troy Pfaff

The A.J. Burnett saga is over. The Pittsburgh Pirates have acquired the right-handed starter from the New York Yankees, pending approval from the commisioner’s office.

We first heard about the potential deal over a month ago, with talks between the two teams picking back up about a week ago. The hang-up on the trade was exactly how much of Burnett’s remaining $33 million contract the Yankees would pay, and exactly which prospect(s) the Pirates would send to New York.

The Yankees will send approximately $20 million to the Pirates along with Burnett, meaning Pittsburgh will pick up $13 million of his remaining salary. The Pirates will send two single-A level prospects to New York.

Reports say Burnett will take a physical on Sunday and will be Pirates property once he passes that.

At 35 years old, Burnett is a shade of his former ace self and had an atrocious time in New York after signing a five-year/$82.5 million deal as a free agent in 2009.

In 98 starts over three seasons with the Yankees, Burnett compiled a 34-35 record with a 4.79 ERA and 1.447 WHIP, with a 7.9 K/9 ratio.

On the plus side, though, Burnett has thrown over 186 innings in each of the last four seasons, eclipsing the 200 mark in two of them. He is still a durable arm. Considering the Pirates didn’t have a single pitcher reach 186 IP in 2011 or 2010, an inning-eating arm is always welcome on this staff.

Burnett’s velocity is undoubtedly declining and will continue to do so as he ages, but his xFIP of 3.86 was almost a whole run-and-a-half better than his 5.15 ERA last season, meaning he’s not as bad as he looks. A move from the ridiculously talented AL East to arguably the worst division in baseball (especially without Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, and a non-PED’d Ryan Braun) will also help Burnett’s numbers come down.

Add in the fact that essentially every fly ball hit by a left-hander in Yankee Stadium leaves the ballpark and take away the intense and constant scrutinization Burnett faced in the city of New York, and things could really turn around for the pitcher.

Another note to take is the fact that Burnett’s best season arguably came in 2008 with the Toronto Blue Jays. Know who Burnett’s designated catcher was that year? Newly signed Pirates catcher Rod Barajas. That year, Burnett led the American League with 231 strikeouts and pitched a career-high 221.1 innings.

In 10 starts with Gregg Zaun behind the plate that season, Burnett went 4-4 with a 6.05 ERA. In 24 starts with Barajas, Burnett went 14-6 with a 3.27 ERA. Burnett is known to pitch better when in his comfort zone with a familiar target calling the game, as evidenced by his poor relationship with Yankees catcher Jorge Posada and Burnett’s subsequent performance in the Bronx. A return to the comfort of Barajas may just help Burnett.

For what the Pirates gave up, there was no reason not to take a chance on Burnett. He was an ace – albeit years ago – in Florida and Toronto and will likely pitch more innings than anyone in the team’s rotation. He struck out 30 more batters than any Pirate last year and will nicely round out the team’s starting rotation, which now features Erik Bedard, Charlie Morton, Burnett, James McDonald, and Jeff Karstens, assuming Kevin Correia ends up the odd man out.

I like it. That rotation may be able to compete in the depleted NL Central, and that’s all that matters.

I’ll be updating this page as word comes in on exactly who the Pirates will part with.

UPDATE 1:52PM: Joel Sherman reports one prospect heading to the Yankees is right-handed relief pitcher Diego Moreno. Moreno has never pitched higher than the AA level and at 25 years old, isn’t anything the Pirates will miss too much. He throws hard but doesn’t have closer potential.

UPDATE 1:59PM: Dejan Kovacevic of the Tribune-Review reports the deal is complete pending commissioner approval, and that the Pirates will pay $5 million of Burnett’s salary this year and $8 million next year.

UPDATE 2:50PM: The second prospect heading to New York is outfielder Exicardo Cayones, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney. The 20-year-old hit .293 in 27 Gulf Coast League games last season, and just .063 (two hits in 32 at bats) in 11 games at low-A State College. Cayones is by no means a “good” prospect.

UPDATE 3:10PM: Be sure to check out Pirates Prospects’ rundown on Moreno and Cayones. Good stuff.

Follow Troy on Twitter @TroyPfaff

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