As pointed out by MLB Trade Rumors, Joel Sherman mentioned in an article this morning that the Yankees are attempting to trade A.J. Burnett in order to free up some roster flexibility. As he spells out:
They know no team will take all of Burnett’s remaining two years at $33 million. But if they could save, say, $4 million this year and next year, it would provide some wiggle room to finish off their roster heading into spring training. (Sherman, NY Post)
The Yankees would like to sign two more players in order to round out their bench, but according to Sherman, only have about $2 million in wiggle room at the moment. Ignoring the whole “The Yankees actually have a budget?” thing, what are the odds the Yankees actually manage to deal Burnett? And should teams actually want him, even if it’s at a discount?
Normally, I would expect there to be some team out there interested in adding Burnett for a couple million dollars. He may have posted a 5+ ERA last season and allowed 31 home runs, but there are a number of reasons to still be bullish on Burnett. His strikeout and swinging strike rates both increased last season, and his poor performance was due to a freakish 17% home run/flyball rate. His curveball resulted in a whiff 40% of the time that a batter swung at it (thanks Brooks Baseball!), so it’s not as though his “stuff” was any less potent. Burnett is homer-prone, but that home run rate is bound to improve.
Burnett may be turning 35 this season, but with some home run regression (and a more pitcher-friendly stadium, mayhap), he could be a valuable +2 to +3 win pitcher — easily worth $8 million over two years. Even if you are more pessimistic about Burnett’s chances to rebound, he’s been a +1.5 win pitcher in recent years. He would still be a small bargain at $4 million/season, but not by much.
But right now, why would a team bother trading for Burnett when they could sign Roy Oswalt for a similar salary? In one instance, a team would have to pay the player and give up an asset (even if it’s a lesser prospect), while in the other, they only have to shell out money. Oswalt may be older and come with his share of injury concerns, but he’s also been a considerably more valuable pitcher than Burnett in recent years. Considering that teams are being hesitant to add payroll in order to sign Oswalt, I see little chance of Burnett actually being dealt.
For Yankees fans, this may be a good thing. When you consider the trade-off, what would you rather have: a slightly better bench, or a starter with the potential to be worth +2 to +3 wins? Depth is important, but I’ll take the starter every time.
It’s possible that the Yankees have reached a similar conclusion, as they have signed Russell Branyan and Bill Hall to minor-league deals over the past day. Branyan and Hall provide the Yankees with cheap depth for their bench, and adding the two of them might mean the Yanks only need to sign one of Chavez, Ibanez, and Damon — not two. Burnett may be overpaid, but that’s no reason to trade him for peanuts; he’s still a useful pitcher with upside and provides the Yankees with some much-needed rotation depth.