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Trading Burnett For Nothing Hurts Pitching Depth

By Mike Silva ~ February 13th, 2012. Filed under: New York Yankees.

You need pitching depth to get through a 162-game schedule. I recently spoke to a big league pitching coach who told me it was important to leave camp with about 18 pitchers  that could realistically contribute at the big league level. Of those 18, you probably need 10 that could start a ballgame. Knowing how important depth is to making the playoffs, I wonder if the rumored deal of A.J. Burnett to Pittsburgh for salary relief is a situation where the Yankees have tired of his act and want him out of the clubhouse.

Burnett is easy to dislike. He makes a lot of money, has been a lightning rod for off-the-field controversy, and does all this while clowning around with pies. Isn’t there the old saying that those who contribute the least spray the most champagne during championship celebrations? Burnett would fit into that category if you could say he didn’t contribute; sometimes I think pundits overstate the awfulness of his performance.

Earlier this offseason, there were rumors the Yankees were considering signing Edwin Jackson on a short-term deal. There were some rumblings they were willing to give Jackson a two-year, $26 million dollar contract. Reports state the Pirates offered Jackson a 3-year deal in the vicinity of $10 million average annual value. Jackson is a career below league average pitcher; Burnett is slightly above. You have to figure a move to the National League will help Burnett’s ERA by a half a run. Would it surprise you if he won 15 games and posted a 4.25 to 4.50 ERA with Pirates or another NL club?

The point is that Burnett is basically Edwin Jackson; a pitcher they were willing to give nearly the same amount of money to pitch for the next two years. The Yankees currently have 7 starters: CC SabathiaMichael PinedaHiroki KurodaIvan NovaFreddy GarciaPhil Hughes and Burnett. Their immediate minor league depth includes Adam WarrenD.J. Mitchell, and David Phelps. Dig deeper and you have top prospects Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances. Perhaps you could add Graham Stoneburner to the mix, if he develops. By my count, that is 13, but how many past Nova can you count on for double-digit wins along with 200 innings? The answer is none. Burnett has a more durable track record than even Phil Hughes. He also has a longer track record than Nova.

Do you believe the Yankees are looking to move Burnett’s $16 million dollar yearly salary to save money? Do you really believe they won’t be able to sign Raul Ibanez to a $2 million dollar deal without salary relief? If you do, you probably also think the YES Network is ignoring the Brian Cashman and Bob Lorenz off-the-field issues because its “non-baseball” news.

I believe that Burnett has become too distracting for an organization that wants to keep a clean a clubhouse as possible. Jorge Posada and Burnett were the two p0larizing news stories in a relatively controversy-free season. Without them, the writers will have to just focus on baseball. Is that worth throwing away much-needed pitching depth? I don’t think so.

You could celebrate the end of the A.J. Burnett era, but dumping him doesn’t come without risk. An injury or two, coupled with some minor league pitcher growing pains can very quickly turn a flush rotation, thin. That’s why I find this deal extremely puzzling.


There are rumors that as many as four teams are in on Burnett. We know about the Pirates. Some other rumors around Twitter include the San Diego Padres, and Joel Sherman speculates that both Kansas City and Cleveland are involved, as well.

Sherman speculates that Travis Hafner, a player that we discussed about a month ago, could go back to the Yankees. Hafner is owed about $15 million between his 2012 salary and 2013 buyout. In this scenario the Yanks would be saving about $17 million dollars.

Hafner is no longer an everyday player; he’s averaged 91 games a season since 2008. He also struggled against LHP (.680 OPS), but that could mean you keep someone like Jorge Vazquez on the roster to split time at the DH. His left-handed power bat would do well at Yankee Stadium. Despite the flaws, he is better than most of the DH candidates we have discussed; this includes Garrett Jones of the Pirates and free agent Raul Ibanez.

Again, I still think keeping Burnett around is important because of how precarious starting pitching depth can be. Remember, you have a Hafner-clone in Russell Branyan.

Burnett and Branyan or Hafner and no Burnett?

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6 Responses to Trading Burnett For Nothing Hurts Pitching Depth

  1. Joseph DelGrippo

    “…but how many (starting pitchers) past Nova can you count on for double-digit wins along with 200 innings?”

    The team doesn’t NEED 200 innings guys, but Kuroda did it last year, Pineda threw 171 innings last year with 9 wins, which easily translates to 14-15 wins with the Yankees.

    So that makes two more. Throw in Garcia with his 150 innings and the staff is looking better.

    “You could celebrate the end of the A.J. Burnett era, but dumping him doesn’t come without risk. An injury or two, coupled with some minor league pitcher growing pains can very quickly turn a flush rotation, thin. That’s why I find this deal extremely puzzling.”

    That statement would be relevant to ANY major league team right now, except maybe the Rays.

    Face it, Mike. Burnett sucks and has been the WORST major lague starting pitcher over the last two seasons.

    He owns the middle of the plate, gives up too many home runs, then walks too many hitters, hits too many guys, and when he gets into a tight spot, he crumbles like a cracker near a hot bowl of soup.

    And he is getting worse. If he was part of the Yankees this season, he would be the biggest malcontent in baseball. David Phelps, Adam Warren, Manny Banuelos and DJ Mitchell would all have better overall numbers in 2012 as the Yankees fifth starter than AJ would.

    I gave all the reasons to rid themselves of Burnett in my piece a few weeks ago.


    It is not about the LH DH as much as everyone thinks.

  2. Brien Jackson

    “Pitching depth” is great when you’ve got your 7th+ starter stashed at Triple-A ready to come up if you need him. It’s not so good if your 7th starter is 35 years old and keeping him around requires sacrificing a reliever or a position player’s spot on the roster to keep him around in case you need 2-4 starts at some point in the season. Honestly, this isn’t roster science.

    And when did everyone suddenly decide to act like Branyan isn’t a 36 year old with a bad back who was downright turrible last season? I like Branyan as much as anyone, but if you’re being realistic about it the odds that he even makes the team probably aren’t very good.

  3. Kabiela

    AJ is an overlooked pitcher. I wish more people would believe in him. I’m not saying keep the guy if he underperforms again at any point this season, but realize that he improved in his final games in 2011 including the ALDS. Read y we shudnt trade A.J. http://t.co/QIkGWzOJ I added some breif explanations to this story, originally from October. U can comment on the story on my blog with ur facebook or Twitter account, or tweet me @idontwearedsox

  4. Mister D

    Right now AJ is the 7th pitcher, and there is no reason to think that, given a chance, one of pitchers 8, 9 and 10 couldn’t match or (more likely) surpass the “production” of AJ’s 2010 and 2011 seasons. I think AJ as a distraction is overblown (but I grant I don’t know much of what happens in the clubhouse), and he seems like a decent guy to me despite his problems, but I don’t see any reason why he should remain a roadblock for the kids.

  5. George

    I think Burnett would benefit from moving to the NL Central but not to the Pirates. The Pirates will earn all season in earnings as much as the Yankees would get in a homestand. Pittsburgh would struggle to afford Burnett even if the Yankees ate much of the salary. A better location would be the Houston Astros who could use another starter for their rotation.

    And the Astros are going to lose 90 or more games, which will probably make Burnett haters happy to have dumped him in baseball oblivion.

  6. Mister D

    George, when a team has lost as long as the Pirates have, I stop wondering why they are doing what they are doing. Moving AJ is doing what’s best for the Yankees, not what’s best for him. Either way he is being dumped far and away from the Yankees, where even a spectacular recovery will mean he won’t bite them in the ass.

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