Blog Entry

Burnett needs to be more steely in Steel City

Posted on: February 17, 2012 2:09 pm
Edited on: February 17, 2012 5:47 pm
The Pirates, spurned by free agents Edwin Jackson and Roy Oswalt this winter, need pitching. The Yankees, bastion for tabloid headlines run amok, need less chaos and fewer knuckleheads.

Call the deal sending A.J. Burnett to Pittsburgh a win-win for both clubs.

Talks for this trade have been so interminable that they've made Best Picture Oscar nominee Tree of Life seem rapid-fire. But the deal finally is moving from the on-deck circle to completion: Colleague Jon Heyman reports that the Pirates have agreed to pay $13 million of the remaining $33 million on Burnett's deal, and that two low-level minor-leaguers will move from Pittsburgh to New York: right-hander Diego Moreno, 25, and outfielder Exicardo Cayones, 20.

Only losers in this trade are the New York tabloids ("After Yankees ace flops, here comes joker" read one classic headline as Burnett followed CC Sabathia in the playoffs against the Tigers last October).

It wasn't official, but Burnett's departure papers from the Yanks' rotation were punched on that dramatic Friday evening last month when general manager Brian Cashman deftly moved to acquire Michael Pineda from Seattle and sign free agent Hiroki Kuroda. The moves were stellar and stealth, immediately adding depth and talent that has been lacking from Joe Girardi's rotation for at least the past couple of years.

That wasn't supposed to be the case with Burnett, who donated his arm to the Bronx cause (and, apparently, his brain to science) when he signed the six-year $82.5 million deal before the 2009 season. For that, the Yankees got 34 victories from him over three seasons, and a clutch (and pivotal) Game 2 win in the 2009 World Series against Philadelphia.

But more often than not, it was the Land of 1,000 Headaches with A.J. as the Yankees spend inordinate amounts of time over the past two seasons trying to fix him like a broken-down sports car on the side of the road. Who knows how many man-hours pitching coach Larry Rothschild invested in him alone last season? And just think how much quality time Rothschild now will have available for Sabathia, Kuroda, Pineda, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes and others.

And for his part there's a good chance that, away from the New York spotlight and howling masses, Burnett can put some of the pieces back together again and help the Pirates. For one thing, he won't be freaking out about whether yet another potent AL East lineup will bash his brains in every fifth day. Facing St. Louis without Albert Pujols, Milwaukee without Prince Fielder and the Astros without anybody in the NL Central might be just what the shrink, er, doctor ordered.

Look, Burnett is a nice guy, a well-meaning guy and a hard-worker. But there historically has been a disconnect between his million-dollar arm and his brain. He was great at times, but always inconsistent, in Florida. He was at his best in Toronto when he was trying to emulate Roy Halladay and Doc's incredible work habits. He's a classic second-fiddle guy, needing to play Robin to someone else's Batman, even he's had the arm of Superman.

Pittsburgh, which has now suffered losing seasons dating back to Pie Traynor (or something like that), happily showed some signs of bounceback last year, especially early. At the All-Star break, the Bucs were in the thick of the NL Central race. But a pitching staff that owned a 3.17 ERA on July 25 fell apart thereafter. Not enough stamina or talent to last. No staying power.

Manager Clint Hurdle has some pieces in James McDonald, Jeff Karstens and Charlie Morton. GM Neal Huntington acquired Erik Bedard over the winter, which is worth a shot. Problem for the Pirates is, in their current state, their most folks' 10th or 11th choice on the free agent market. Jackson signed with the Nationals. Oswalt remains unsigned, scouring high and low for another landing spot.

Which is why focusing on a trade, and Burnett specifically, maybe isn't the first choice for the contenders out there but is the perfect move right now for Huntington. As maddeningly inconsistent as he's been, Burnett did throw 190 1/3 innings for the Yanks last summer, 186 2/3 before that and 207 innings in 2009.

Pittsburgh can use that. And Burnett can use a low-key place -- at least, a place lower key than Yankee Stadium -- as he reaches out to recapture lost glory for a team doing the same.

Here's hoping he does. Pittsburgh can really use it. And, from Burnett, the Yankees no longer need it.

Since: Sep 20, 2006
Posted on: February 22, 2012 2:14 pm

Burnett needs to be more steely in Steel City

I'm a nice guy that works hard too, but no one is paying me $13 million to throw batting practice during games. MAYBE the $13 mil would have been better spent on a contract downpayment to keep the next Pirates player with real MLB talent (McCutcheon ?) instead of trading them off for Players to be Released Later.

As a long time Reds fan, I recognize the differences in good intentions, BULLSCHIDT, and PR that tries to hide "business as usual".

Ability to sign top-tier, multi-million dollar free agents isn't a requirement to be competitive in MLB, but the ability to support a legitimate minor league system and actually keep some of that talent at the MLB level, is.

This trade isn't about finding a kinder, gentler MLB for Burnett to get shelled in without getting as many boos as in NYC, OR about giving the Pirates a chance to win now, or at ANY time in the future... It's another pointless manuver by an unmotivated (and/or clueless) Pirates front office intent on sailing the Pirates ship in circles, stalling until more MLB revenue sharing cash arrives to keep their destinationless cruise to nowhere afloat. 

The only thing Pirates fans can do is boycott games, and complain to those that would listen (MLB and the City government). Bud Selig has proved he'll look the other way for am awfully long time, but eventually, MLB either needs to step in and force Pittsburgh ownership to actually fund a MLB franchise, sell to an ownership group that will, or move the team to a city that can put more effort into trying than the Pirates have for the last several decades. 

Since: Jul 22, 2011
Posted on: February 20, 2012 12:30 am

Burnett needs to be more steely in Steel City

I don't think A.J. is aa bad as a lot of people think. He will more than likely improve by being in a pitcher's park and having much less pressure to preform. Yes he may have lost some of his stuff but if you look at his numbers besides his era they aren't that bad.
2009  207 IP 195 K 97 BB 1.40 WHIP 4.04 ERA 
2010  186 IP 145 K 78 BB 1.51 WHIP 5.26 ERA
2011  190 IP 173 K 83 BB 1.43 WHIP 5.15 ERA 

2010 was not great indeed but 2009 and 2011 are pretty similar as far as K rate per IP and WHIP. His K to BB ratio was pretty consistant over the past three years. I also think hat the ERA will drop to maybe 4.50 or so or maybe lower by being in a pithchers park and pitching in the NL Central. I think when you look at it all the Bucs got a pretty reasonable deal.

Since: Jan 17, 2008
Posted on: February 18, 2012 6:50 pm

Burnett needs to be more steely in Steel City

how is this a win for both clubs. Burnett SUCKS!

Since: May 7, 2010
Posted on: February 18, 2012 11:51 am

Burnett needs to be more steely in Steel City

This may end up being a not-expensive and rewrding experiment for the Pirates. They get a potentially very good, proven starter for just $6.5 million per year for two years, and buy some time for the young pitchers in their system to develop. Aleternatively, they could let Burnett put it together and win some gam for the Bucs and then trade him for a bat. This would be more likely if Pedro falters again and McGehee moves across teh diamond to 3rd. Let's face it, the Bucs gave up nothing for this trade. I like it. 

BTW Scott, nice article, but  were you rushed? Spelling & proofreading, man.

Just saying...

Since: May 22, 2007
Posted on: February 18, 2012 11:22 am

Burnett needs to be more steely in Steel City

Scott, I think you were looking for a silver lining in this your column, but to think former Yankee A.J. Burnett will be a plus for the Pirates is wishful thinking. They already have Erik Beddard, who hasn't shown much wherever he goes...they had a nice rotation with James McDonald, Jeff Karstens and Charlie Morton...why screw up the chemistry with AJ???

Well, I know you meant well, and the Pirates could sure use some help in the NL Central. Maybe they can beat the Cubs...that's something, but will they unseat the Brewers? I hope they do well and hope the same for Burnett...the Pirates have been down and out for a very long time.

Since: May 17, 2007
Posted on: February 18, 2012 10:52 am

Burnett needs to be more steely in Steel City

This trade got more blog time than the BP oil slick.
The Pirates are better with this guy than the alternative, whoever that was.

Since: Feb 3, 2011
Posted on: February 18, 2012 1:24 am

Burnett needs to be more steely in Steel City

Yes, of course, the Pirates need starting pitching (among a lot of other positions). But not an expensive, average, head case pitcher on the downside of his career. And we have to give up two prospects?? Just plain STUPID. It's Matt Morris all over again.

If the Pirates were close to contending and you need a guy at the end of the rotation to eat up innings, then maybe if he is relatively inexpensive and you don't have to give up anything to get him. But the Pirates are a long way away so this is just another dumb move that will keep them under .500 for yet another year, delay the growth of a young pitcher, and will mortgage the future of two prospects.

PS: Great clubhouse now with Burnett AND Erik Bedard. What a joke.

Since: Apr 2, 2010
Posted on: February 17, 2012 11:46 pm

Burnett needs to be more steely in Steel City

Best post that I have read here in a long time!!!!

Since: Jan 7, 2007
Posted on: February 17, 2012 9:36 pm

Burnett needs to be more steely in Steel City

I wish AJ luck, I'm glad he's out of the rotation but I wish him no ill will.
I've seen many pitchers come to the Bronx on the last 30+ yrs, many failed worse than AJ.
At least AJ tried, he took the crap thrown at him, he didn't make excuses, and he was at his locker after every start no matter how good or bad to face the crowd.
And for all the bad streaks he had in August every year, he pitched some great clutch games.
I go back to the days of Ed Whitson, Andy Hawkins, Joe Cowley, Rich Dotson, Mike Witt, Scott Sanderson, Dave Lapoint, Ken Clay, Jeff Johnson, Wade Taylor and many more.  More recently, Irabu, Igawa, Kevin Brown. I'd take AJ Burnett over any and all of those guys.

Since: Sep 14, 2006
Posted on: February 17, 2012 9:20 pm

Burnett needs to be more steely in Steel City

Idiot YHater1, as in Yankee hater, it's a win for the Yankees cause they had a player they were trying to just salary dump rather than release outright and pick up the full tab. Saving that 13 million will go towards the DH/PT-player they sign. It also will reduce the penalty on going over the soft cap by another 50%. People always complain about the Yanks deep pockets, but this trade does give a small amount of relief. The 6.5 million in savings for the next 2 years will be about 3% of the total team payroll for each year. That savings adds up and the next time the Yanks sign a superstar or pay one of their homegrown stars, aka Cano, the dollars saved here will be part of it. 

So enjoy being a hater while the Yankees enjoy being winners. I know I'll enjoy this year as a Yankees fan.  

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