The New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates are talking about New York sending embattled starter AJ Burnett to the Pirates. The key hangup is salary, as Burnett is due $33 million over the next two seasons. The Yankees are looking to split the salary evenly, but the last report from Pittsburgh indicates that the Pirates are willing to eat about $11 million of Burnett’s contract. But the big question here is, “does Burnett fit well with Pittsburgh?”
Here’s the thing about AJ Burnett: despite what Jon Heyman may incessantly tweet, Burnett hasn’t been that bad as a Yankee. He just hasn’t lived up to lofty expectations set for him that were probably a little too high. Burnett is the antithesis of a contract year pitcher. In 2005, his final year with the Florida Marlins, Burnett had a 3.11 FIP and was worth 5.1 fWAR. He signed with the Toronto Blue Jays, and in 2006, his FIP rose to 3.79, and he threw 70 fewer innings en route to a 3.2 fWAR season. In 2008 with the Blue Jays, Burnett’s final year with them before an opt-out clause would allow him to get the hell out of Canada, he threw a career high 221 1/3 innings, racked up a 3.45 FIP, and was worth a career-high 5.5 fWAR. In his three years as a Yankee, Burnett’s FIP hasn’t been below 4.33, and he’s been worth a total of 6.4 fWAR.
But switching back to the National League, especially the NL Central, would have a huge effect on Burnett’s stats in a positive way. The 35 year-old would be going from the AL East, where he had to face three above average offenses and one below average offense over the past three years, to the NL Central, which features just two above average offenses and three below average offenses. Oh, and those two above average offenses each lost their star first baseman this offseason, so who knows if they’ll even be above average in 2012.
Another positive for Burnett is leaving Yankee Stadium. Despite Burnett’s relative success at the park (which is generally true for any pitcher at home), he still wasn’t too good. Since opening, Yankee Stadium has a 108 park effect for pitchers since opening, which is dramatically favors hitters. His potential new home, PNC Park, is at 100 over the last three seasons, which is neutral. A shift in home parks would drastically help Burnett.
And finally, why would the Pirates even want Burnett? Look at their current rotation: Charlie Morton, James McDonald, Erik Bedard, Jeff Karstens. That is absolutely not a murderer’s row by any stretch of the imagination and the presence of Burnett, a veteran who could potentially outshine everyone in their current rotation, would help out a ton. He’s started at least 30 games in four years running, a mark that only McDonald hit last season for the Pirates. No one on the Pirates staff threw 175 innings, which Burnett has also done in each of the last four seasons.
At worst, Burnett would be an expensive replacement for the recently-departed Paul Maholm. The Pirates only have $34.8 million committed to payroll right now, a year after being at $42 million. Depending how much of Burnett’s contract the Yankees pick up, Pittsburgh might be able to slide him right in without having to do anything at all with their current budget. And who knows, maybe if he’s effective over the first three months of the season in his new home, the Pirates can deal him in July to a contender.