As spring training camps open it is time to look at the American League East competition for the New York Yankees. How will the other teams fare as they gear up to dethrone the 2011 division champions? Do these teams have the pitching? Is there enough offense? Let’s see.
PART 1 – BALTIMORE ORIOLES
The 2011 season began with a lot of optimism because of the great job Buck Showalter did in turning around the Orioles at the end of the 2010 season.
But 2011 was much like every season for the Orioles since 1999. It fizzled into frustration in a hurry. They finished with a record of 69-93 and they were a distant fifth in the A.L. East, 28 games behind the Yankees.
This coming season promises to pretty similar because the Orioles have not made a lot of changes to their roster. With the exeption of Jeremy Guthrie, Luke Scott and Derrek Lee, this pretty much the same group that floundered through much of 2011.
One big reason is that the Orioles banked their future hopes on a collection of young starting pitchers like Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman. They progressed through the minors but none of them have established themselves as major-league quality starters. And if you want to compete in this division, you have to have good starting pitching.
The Orioles compounded that issue by trading their best starting pitcher, Guthrie, to the Colorado Rockies for starter Jason Hammel and reliever Matt Lindstrom. As a result, the Orioles’ “ace” is former Rangers right-hander Tommy Hunter, who was 4-4 with a 4.68 ERA in an injury-shortened season.
The Orioles, led by general manager Dan Duquette, are now shifting their sites overseas and the team signed two pitchers from the Japanese League in Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada.
Chen, 26, is a left-hander from Taiwan who has compiled a 36-30 record and a 2.48 ERA in four seasons with the Chunichi Dragons. He also has pretty good stuff with 500 career strikeouts in 631 1/3 innings.
Wada, 30, is another left-hander and he has overcome two injury-plagued seasons to compile a combined 33-13 record with a 2.29 ERA in the last two seasons with Fukuoda Softbank Hawks. While Chen has better stuff, Wada is considered to have better control.
Both figure prominently in the Orioles plans for 2012 and both likely will be in the rotation this season, depending on how they progress in the spring.
Hammel, 29, was 7-13 with a 4.76 ERA last season with the Rockies. The tall right-hander figures to be slotted as the No. 4 starter.
The Orioles still have high hopes for Matusz, Britton, Arrieta and Tillman. But it appears Britton and Arrieta are going to get most of the attention this spring. The lefty Britton suffered a shoulder injury last season and he finished the season 11-11 with a 4.61 ERA. Arrieta was 10-8 with 5.05 ERA.
The bullpen was a strength of this team when Koji Uehara was around but he was dealt to the Rangers at the trade deadline last July.
The closer job is up for grabs between incumbent closer Kevin Gregg, who saved 22 games but blew seven chances and was 0-3 with a 4.37 ERA, and Jim Johnson, who saved nine games and was 6-5 with a 2.67 ERA. Lindtsrom, who saved 23 games for the Astros in 2010, can also be shifted into the closer role.
The rest of the bullpen will likely be made up with lefty Darren O’Day and former starters Alfredo Simon, Brad Bergesen and Jason Berken.
A few years ago, the Orioles seem to invested their future into second baseman Brian Roberts, right-fielder Nick Markakis and center-fielder Adam Jones and have built around those players.
Unfortunately, Roberts has suffered through injury after injury and Markakis and Jones have underperformed expectations.
With the Orioles lack of ability to attract high-priced free-agent talent, the Orioles have to rely on that trio as the core of the team again.
The Orioles may also begin getting what they expected out of catcher Matt Wieters, who hit 22 home runs and won a Gold Glove for his defensive work behind the plate. The former No. 1 pick also is showing some signs of leadership on the team.
Shortstop J.J. Hardy finally shook off injuries that plagued him since he was with the Brewers in 2008 as he hit 30 home runs and drove in 80 runs.
Third baseman Mark Reynolds was pretty much as advertised. He did not hit for average and struck out 196 times but he also hit 37 home runs and drove in 87 runs.
Former Rangers first baseman Chris Davis is pretty much a carbon copy of Reynolds at first base only he does most of his striking out from the left side.
The Orioles will likely platoon veterans Endy Chavez and Nolan Reimold in the outfield and look for the Orioles to make a late bid for a DH.
They could re-sign veteran Vladimir Guerrero or chose from among Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui to replace Scott.
Former Yankee Wilson Betemit will be the top reserve on the infield and middle infield reserve Robert Andino will return to provide glovework behind Roberts and Hardy. Former Rangers backstop Taylor Teagarden will be the backup to Wieters.
The Orioles could use the spring to look for some veteran help in the outfield to bolster their bench a bit.
With Jones, Wieters, Hardy, Reynolds and Davis the Orioles seem to have plenty of firepower. Plus when Roberts is healthy and Markakis is going good, they can get on base and steal a base or two. But the overall offense may be too geared towards power over putting the ball iin play and advancing runners.
The Orioles, as a team, strike out way too much and it cost them because their pitching is not that strong.
The Orioles are gambling on two Japanese League pitchers and two journeyman American starters (Hunter and Hammel) to give them time to develop their young pitchers like Britton and Arrieta. The jury is still out on Matusz, who looked like a surefire star in the making in 2010.
Without a consistent starting rotation, any effort Showalter makes in the bullpen could prove futile. A good bullpen only limits the damage. The bullpen should be strong but it is obvious they are going to tire quickly if they are constantly coming in the fourth or fifth inning.
Barring another Showalter miracle, this team is headed for more frustration in 2012. They simply can’t compete with the big boys (Yankees, Rays, Red Sox) and they merely hold their own against the Blue Jays. If I were a betting man, I would suspect that the Orioles will finish fifth again.
It is a spot for which they are built.
ON TUESDAY – PART 2 TORONTO BLUE JAYS
When Gerald Ford assumed the presidency from a resigned Richard Nixon on Aug. 9, 1974 he told the American people in a nationally televised address that “our long national nightmare is over.”
Well, on Feb. 17, 2012 I am hear to tell Yankee Universe that our own “national nightmare” is indeed over.
The New York Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates have tentatively reached agreement on a deal that would send enigmatic 35-year-old right-hander A.J. Burnett to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for two minor leaguers and $13 million in cash.
The deal has not been officially announced and it still would require the approval of Commissioner Bud Selig because of the amount of cash involved. But the fact that the Pirates have released the names of the two players the Yankees are acquiring in the deal is proof that the negotiations are down to one last detail: The payment schedule on the $13 million the Pirates will pay the Yankees.
Burnett is in the fourth year of a five-year, $82 million contract he signed with the Yankees in 2009. The Yankees have insisted in their trade talks with the Pirates that they would have to assume some of the roughly $33 million still owed Burnett over the next two seasons.
In addition to the $13 million the Pirates have agreed to pay, the Yankees will receive 25-year-old right-handed reliever Diego Moreno and 20-year-old outfielder Exicardo Cayones. Both players are natives of Venezuela.
The 6-foot-1, 175-pound Moreno is entering his sixth season in the minors and was a combined 2-4 with a 3.63 ERA in 41 games with Class-A Bradenton in the Florida State League and Double-A Altoona in the Eastern League.
The 6-foot, 185-pound Cayones is entering his fourth minor-league season and hit a combined .228 with no home runs and 12 RBIs between the Pirates’ Class A Gulf League team and Class-A State College in the New York-Penn League.
Neither Moreno or Cayones are listed among the Pirates’ Top 20 prospects rated by MLB. com.
The main reason the Yankees are unloading Burnett without much in return is because he has been a disappointment during his three years in pinstripes and huge salary is a albatross around the Yankees’ necks. Burnett was a combined 34-35 with a 4.79 ERA in stint with the Yankees. His average of 3.98 walks per nine innings was second in the American League and fifth in the major leagues, according to STATS, LLC.
Burnett also became expendable when the Yankees traded catcher Jesus Montero and right-handed pitcher Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for 23-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda and 19-year-old right-hander Jose Campos. The Yankees then added to their rotation by signing former Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $10 million contract.
That left Burnett, 25-year-old right-hander Phil Hughes and 35-year-old right-hander Freddy Garcia left to compete for the No. 5 spot in a Yankee rotation that already boasted ace left-hander CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova, who was 16-7 in his rookie season,
The Yankees were basically seeking some salary relief from the Pirates in order to sign a designated hitter and a backup infielder for the 2012 season.
The Yankees seem to be most interested in 39-year-old left-hand-hitting outfielder Raul Ibanez to pair with 34-year-old right-hand-hitting outfielder Andruw Jones in a platoon at designated hitter. Ibanez, a free agent, has told the Yankees he would willing to sign a contract for less money in order to play with a playoff contender.
Ibanez hit .245 with 20 home runs and 84 RBIs with the Phillies last season but he hit only .211 against left-handers. He hit .256 with 16 home runs and 60 RBIs against right-handers.
If the Yankees fail to sign Ibanez they have two left-handed-hitting options at DH in former Yankees Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, who are also free agents.
The Yankees also would like to re-sign 34-year-old backup corner infielder Eric Chavez, who hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs in 58 games with the Yankees last season.
Once the deal for Burnett is complete and approved by the commissioner, the Yankees expect to act quickly to sign Chavez and one of the free agent DHs.
As for Burnett, the Yankee front office, teammates and fans alike will shake their heads on how a pitcher with such unhittable stuff could pitch so poorly for such a good offensive team like the Yankees.
When he was signed, Burnett was looked upon as the No. 2 starter behind fellow free agent Sabathia for the next five years. They both delivered a world championship in 2009 when Burnett was 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA.
But Burnett will be best remembered for rescuing the Yankees in Game 2 of the World Series against the Phillies after Cliff Lee had bested Sabathia in Game 1. Burnett threw a spectacular seven innings and evened the series the Yankees eventually won in six games.
Unfortunately is was mostly downhill from there. Burnett was 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA in 2010. In 2011, the Yankees hired pitching coach Larry Rothschild largely on the basis of his proposed fixes to help Burnett get back on track. However, Burnett was 11-11 with a 5.15 after Rothschild tinkered with his delivery.
Burnett also was embroiled in some odd incidents. He cut his finger on his pitching hand angrily trying to open a clubhouse door. He arrived for a start in 2010 sporting a black eye that he refused to explain. He also had an clubhouse run-in with Joe Girardi after he left a start in Minnesota last August.
Burnett also had to deal with a loss in velocity on his fastball, which had made him more hittable.
With the Pirates, Burnett likely will become a co-ace with free-agent left-hander Eric Bedard in a rotation that also includes Kevin Correia, James McDonald and former Yankee Jeff Karstens. The Pirates’ right-hander Charlie Morton is recovering from left hip surgery and he is not expected to be able to pitch when the season starts.
In Pittsburgh, Burnett will face less pressure to win and less expectations to succeed than he did with the Yankees.
Though the Yankees and their fans will forever miss “Good A.J.” and his post-game celebratory pies in the face in walk-off victories, those same people will not miss the inevitable unraveling of “Bad A.J.” on the mound.
Speaking for Yankee fans, thanks A.J. for 2009 and good luck in trying to get back on track in the National League.
If A.J. Burnett does nothing more for the New York Yankees as a pitcher he did them a major favor off the field this week.
The Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels had worked a trade of the 35-year-old right-hander to the Angels in exchange for former Yankee outfielder Bobby Abreu.
However, as part of Burnett’s five-year contract with the Yankees, Burnett had the right to block a trade to up to 10 major-league teams. The Angels so happen to be one of those teams and he rejected the trade.
For the Yankees’ sake, I am very happy that A.J. rejected that swap. Abreu, who will turn 38 in March, is on a fast downward escalator in his career. A career .293 hitter, Abreu hit .255 in 2010 and a career low of .253 in 2011 with only eight home runs and 60 RBIs in 142 games.
Abreu is available because the Angels’ outfield is filled with left-fielder Vernon Wells, center-fielder Peter Bourjos and right-fielder Torii Hunter and, with the signing of free-agent first baseman Albert Pujols, the Angels already have a logjam at designated hitter between former starting first baseman Kendrys Morales and Mark Trumbo, who hit 29 home runs as a rookie first baseman last season.
The Angels were seeking Burnett as a No. 5 starter behind ace right-hander Jared Weaver, free-agent lefty C.J. Wilson and right-handers Dan Haren and Ervin Santana.
Abreu is owed $9 million in the final year of his contract and Burnett is owed $33 million over the final two seasons of his contract. It is unclear how much of Burnett’s salary the Yankees were willing to pay. A source did say it was a “considerable portion” and the Angels would not have been obligated to pay Burnett anything until the 2013 season.
Abreu likely would have assumed a platoon left-handed-hitting DH role with the Yankees in a tandem with the righty-swinging Andruw Jones. The Yankees would then have some money left over to re-sign backup infielder Eric Chavez to complete the 2012 roster. The Angels would get a No. 5 starter and be rid of an expensive bench player without adding money to the 2012 payroll.
Reports indicate that Burnett rejected the trade because his wife does not like flying to attend Bunrett’s games. That is the reason Burnett listed all of the West Coast teams on his 10-team no-trade list. The same reports indicate that the Yankees are still trying to pursue a trade for Burnett with the Pittaburgh Pirates.
So far the Yankees have struck out on deals for Burnett that included 30-year-old first baseman/outfielder Garrett Jones of the Pirates, 34-year-old first baseman/DH Travis Hafner and now Abreu. However, if they agree on a deal with the Pirates to unload a portion of Burnett’s salary and the Yankees can get a few young prospects from the Pirates in return for Burnett they likely would have enough money to sign a free-agent DH this weekend and work out a deal with Chavez.
The Yankees are looking to add former Phillie outfielder Raul Ibanez, who said he would be willing to accept less money in order to play with the Yankees. The team also possibly could sign two members of the Yankees’ 2009 world championship club in Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui. Right-handed-hitting DH Vladimir Guerrero also expressed an interest in playing with the Yankess but the team is strictly looking at signing a left-handed hitter.
Let’s face reality here. The Yankees would be better off with a combination of either Ibanez and Chavez or Damon and Chavez than Abreu and Chavez. That is the reason the Yankees should actually thank Burnett for nixing the deal and exercising his no-trade rights. It now actually forces the Yankees into trying again with the Pirates.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and his Pirates counterpart Neal Huntington have spent so much time talking with each other this week they may end up picking out china patterns. The Pirates remain confident a deal can be reached, but the Yankees have told the Pirates they would like the deal completed before Burnett is required to report to the spring training in Tampa, FL, on Sunday.
The two teams are trying to come to agreement on how much money the Pirates will pay towards Burnett’s contract and what prospects the Pirates would be willing to trade.
This bulletin just in from the news room: A.J. Burnett is still a New York Yankee.
This trade saga has played out for nearly a week and there still is no resolution, which shows that the Pittsburgh Pirates are being very difficult trade partners.
This is what we do know at this hour: The Pirates are definitely seeking the 35-year-old right-hander in a trade. The Yankees would like two things in return. No. 1 is some financial relief from the $33 million owed to Burnett over the next two seasons. No. 2 they would like to have a few young prospects to stock they burgeoning minor-league stockpile of talent.
But those two requests have held up the deal.
First, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington rejected the Yankees’ request for 30-year-old first baseman/outfielder Garrett Jones, who could have filled in nicely as the Yankees left-handed designated hitter in 2012.
Now there seems to be some snag regarding how much money the Pirates will pick up of Burnett’s contract. The Pirates reportedly offered $10 million and just wanted that payment to Burnett to be the deal. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said no to that proposal, claiming any deal for Burnett had to include players in return.
Now the haggling is coming over what prospects the Pirates are willing to give up and to what extent those players change how much the Pirates will pay towards Burnett’s contract. Does trading two prospects mean the Pirates only pay $6 million? Who knows how they come up with that formula?
Hence the delay.
Meanwhile, a number of other related items about the Burnett are swirling.
First, the Cleveland Indians were one of four teams who have shown interest in Burnett but they rejected a deal that would have sent first baseman/designated hitter Travis Hafner to the Yankees in return.
Hafner, 34, would have satisfied the Yankees’ desire for a power-hitting left-handed hitter they could platoon at DH with Andruw Jones.
Hafner, who is nicknamed “Pronk.” hit .280 with 13 home runs and 57 RBIs in 94 games with the Indians in 2011. He is owed $13 million this season and an additional $13 million in 2013 with a $2.75 million buyout.
The Yankees were obviously hoping to unload Burnett’s $16.5 million for Hafner’s $13 million to give them about $5.5 million to re-sign infield reserve Eric Chavez to round out the team’s roster for 2012. But the Indians and Yankees halted talks and the deal is considered dead.
If the Yankees do acquire prospects from the Pirates, they would like to have enough money available to sign a DH. The odds-on favorite is left-handed-hitting outfielder Raul Ibanez, a former Phillie. He said he would accept less money in order to play with the Yankees.
The Yankees also have an interest in former Yankees Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui.
However, another free-agent designated hitter has expressed an interest in donning pinstripes. Vladimir Guerrero, 37, contacted the Yankees to apply for the job.
Guerrero hit .290 with 13 home runs and 65 RBIs with the Orioles last season. But the Yankees would seem to have little interest in Guerrero because he is a right-hand hitter and the Yankees have Jones to DH from the right side. In addition, Guerrero’s power stroke is waning and it would not seem to fit in with the larger dimensions in left at Yankee Stadium.
But it is useless for the Yankees to even consider DH prospects unless the Burnett deal is signed and sealed.
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported that the Yankees want the deal done by Saturday, a day before pitchers and catchers report to Tampa, FL. The Yankees do not want Burnett showing up on Sunday and then having to ship him out a few days later.
According to reports, the Pirates are optimistic about resolving the monetary and player issues with the Yankees.
Well, if they are, then so am I.
“We could have had it all
Rolling in the deep
You had my heart inside your hand
And you played it
To the beat”
– Lyrics to “Rolling In The Deep” by Adele
It is ironic that on the same weekend Adele was the recipient of six Grammys based largely on her single “Rolliong In The Deep” that the “broken-hearted” Yankees are trying so desperately to part ways with a right-handed pitcher who has repeatedly disappointed them.
Allan James Burnett has been both at the epicenter of the Yankees’ success the past three seasons and he also has been part of the team’s struggles to get to their 28th world championship. There have been lots of good times: The second game of the World Series against the Phillies, the games in which Burnett appeared to be a father tossing nasty breaking pitches to mere kids flailing at air and, of course, those walk-off victory pies he delivered to the face of the game’s hero.
Then there was the games in which bad luck seem to attach itself to Bunrett like a stubborn barnacle on a proud fishing vessel. Things would unravel at a moment’s notice. Two dominating strikeouts would be followed by a walk, a wild pitch, a bunt single, a double in the gap, a stolen base, another wild pitch and then a home run.
That was what fans termed “Bad A.J.” It was used as a term to differentiate from the dominating pitcher the Yankees thought they signed to a five-year, $82 million free-agent contract in 2009 after he was 18-10 with a 4.07 ERA with the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Yankees tolerated a bit of “Bad A.J.” in 2009 because he was 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA in a season the Yankees won a championship. Burnett, along with ace CC Sabathia and left-hander Andy Pettitte were a huge reason why the Yankees blitzed through the Twins, Angels and outplayed the Phillies in six games to win the 2009 World Series.
Since then, the Yankees have failed to make it back to the World Series. The starting pitching was targeted as a huge reason why. And, unfortunately for Burnett, he was being trotted out by the prosecution as Exhibit A, whether it was true or not. He was underperforming for a pitcher making the kind of money he was being paid.
Burnett was 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA in 2010. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild was hired for the 2011 season with the expressed No. 1 task of “fixing” A.J.
Rothshild tinkered and toiled with A.J. without completely changing his style as a strikeout pitcher with a career strikeout rate of 8.2 per inning. Early it seemed to be paying dividends. Besides that old nemesis Jorge Posada, who Burnett seemed to lay a lot of his troubles upon, was not catching anymore.
However, by the end of the 2011 season, Burnett was 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA. For all the tinkering Burnett seemed to be right back where he was in 2010.
Then came the whispers that Burnett later confirmed as true. Burnett at age 35 was losing velocity on his fastball. That allowed hitters to get a bit more comfortable in the box on him. Pitches that hitters used to wave at were now getting hit solidly. Burnett told reporters he would have to learn to pitch inside more.
General manager Brian Cashman had to look at all this with a bit of sadness. It was, after all, Cashman’s idea to sign Burnett to that five-year deal. But Cashman had to admit that if the Yankees were to compete in the hitting-rich American League East they needed to improve the Yankees’ rotation in 2012.
The Rays advanced to the playoffs largely on the basis of their pitching. The Red Sox, despite their swoon in 2011, still have Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. The Blue Jays have lefty Ricky Romero and righty Brandon Morrow. The Orioles have . . . well they have nice looking uniforms for their pitchers.
So Cashman moved this winter to acquire right-hander Michael Pineda, who was 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA as a rookie for the offensively weak Seattle Mariners. He then signed free agent Hiroki Kuroda, who was 13-16 with a 3.07 ERA for the Dodgers. Those moves left Burnett out in the cold. He was now expected to compete this spring with 25-year-old Phil Hughes and 35-year-old Freddy Garcia for the No. 5 spot.
Cashman said at the time that he “had not given up on Burnett.”
But after an ugly incident in a game against the Twins on Aug. 20 at Target Field in which Burnett was removed in the second inning after having been hammered for seven runs on five hits and three walks pretty much sealed his fate with the Yankees. As Burnett left the mound he turned and the cameras caught him saying, “This is bulls—” to manager Joe Girardi. Girardi claimed not to have heard it.
But Burnett later compounded it by walking directly into the clubhouse. Girardi, who has a rule that starters may not leave the dugout until the runners they left on score or the inning is over, went straight into the clubhouse and ordered Burnett back into the dugout. The angry Burnett did return but he quickly left immediately as a reliever allowed Bunrett’s seventh and final run to score.
A.J. finally burned a big bridge and it is the reason the Yankees are trying so hard to unload the two years and $33 million left on his contract.
Yep, Adele is right. We could have had it all, A.J.
But now Burnett needs to go. The Yankees know it. The fans know it. Now even Burnett’s agent knows it.
“He is getting ready to go to spring training, whether it’s with the Yankees, Pittsburgh or anyone else,” his agent, Darek Braunecker, told the New York Daily News. “A.J. understands this is a business and will do what he has to do. He’s healthy and he’s looking forward to pitching for somebody.”
Today the Yankees made it clear to the Pittsburgh Pirates that they will not accept just a portion of the $33 million left on Burnett’s contract. They want prospects also.
Marc Carig of the Newark Star-Ledger reported on Monday that the Yankees are willing to assume a large portion of the money Burnett is owed as a condition of the trade. But they also refuse to move Burnett unless they receive players back in the deal, a person close to the negotiations said.
“(The Yankees) have to get players back,” the person with knowledge said on Sunday. “Not a give away.”
So the teams are locked into talks concerning the players the Yankees should receive as well as how much money the Pirates are willing to contribute to Burnett’s salary.
According to various sources, the Yankees have had discussions about Burnett with four teams, including the Pirates. One of the teams is on Burnett’s no-trade list of 10 teams. Reportedly that team likely will not be part of a deal because Burnett would invoke his no-trade clause to block it.
The Pirates, Carig reported, remain the frontrunners. Though the teams are still talking it appears no deal is imminent.
Meanwhile, Yankee fans have heir fingers crossed that some sort of accommodation between the Yankees and Pirates can be reached. They are ready to turn the page on Burnett and they want Cashman to sign a free-agent DH because the team needs some salary room in order to do that.
With Burnett gone and Pirates helping pay some of that contract the Yankees possibly could afford to sign a Johnny Damon or a Hideki Matsui.
Then all those memories of “Bad A.J.” will fade slowly away.
The trade talks concerning pitcher A.J. Burnett between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Yankees are apparently continuing through the weekend, according to a report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The talks reportedly no longer include first baseman/outfielder Garrett Jones.
The Pirates seem to be more willing to keep the 30-year-old Jones, who is projected to be their starting first baseman against right-hand pitching, and the team prefers to pay more money towards the 35-year-old Burnett’s $33 million salary over the next two seasons.
CBS Sports reported that the Pirates would be willing to assume $10 million ($5 million per season) of the $33 million Burnett is owed as part of a five-year, $82 million contract the right-hander signed with the Yankees in 2009.
That would be good news to the Yankees, who are looking to open up some salary room in order to sign a left-handed-hitting DH from among a group of free agents that includes former Yankees Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui and former Phillies outfielder Raul Ibanez.
The Pirates have been openly trying to add to their rotation this winter, having made a three-year contract offer to free-agent right-hander Edwin Jackson, who subsequently signed a one-year deal with the Washington Nationals.
Burnett’s role as a starter was left in question this winter when the Yankees traded with the Seattle Mariners for right-hander Michael Pineda and signed former Los Angeles Dodgers Hiroki Kuroda as a free agent.
Burnett was 11-11 with 5.15 ERA with the Yankees last season but has made at least 32 starts in each of last four seasons and he carries a career strikeout rate of 8.2 per nine innings.
The Pirates seem to be set with five starters that include former Yankee Jeff Karstens, Kevin Correia, Charlie Morton, James McDonald and newly signed left-hander Erik Bedard. However, Morton had surgery in October to repair a torn labrum in his left hip and he may not be ready for Opening Day. Karstens and Correia struggled last season with fatigue and a strained oblique, respectively.
Bedard, 32, has not started more than 28 games since the 2007 season due to a series of injuries.
Burnett does have a limited no-trade clause in his contract which precludes the Yankees from trading him to 10 teams, however, the Pirates are not among those teams.
Yankee fans might be disappointed somewhat that the Pirates are refusing to part with Jones because he could have been a valuable backup at first base and the corner outfield spots as well as been the left-hand part of platoon at DH with Andruw Jones.
However, the money the Pirates are offering would be enough for the Yankees to make an offer to sign a free agent to DH and the Yankees would be rid of Burnett, who has been unable to harness his great stuff consistently enough to be successful with the Yankees the past two seasons.
The New York Yankees would like to trade 35-year-old right-hander A.J. Burnett to the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Pirates are interested in the deal. However, according to ESPN, the player the Yankees want in return is creating a stumbling block in the negotiations.
The Yankees would like to obtain first baseman/outfielder Garrett Jones in return for Burnett. But the Pirates, according to ESPN, are not interested in parting with Jones. ESPN said there was “no traction so far.”
Jones, 30, hit .243 with 16 home runs and 58 RBIs in 148 games with the Pirates last season. The lefty-swinging Jones began the season as a starter in right-field and ended up in a platoon role borne out by the fact that he hit .147 against left-handed pitching last season.
What likely interests the Yankees is that Jones hit .262 with 14 of his 16 home runs and 50 of his 58 RBIs against right-handers, which would make him an ideal platoon designated hitter with right-handed-hitting Andruw Jones. Jones’ power numbers also figure to jump in the shorter dimensions in right-field of Yankee Stadium.
But the Pirates have Jones penciled in as a platoon starter at first base on their depth chart in 2012. A trade of Jones would leave former Brewer third baseman Casey McGehee as a full-time starter at first base and the Pirates are reluctant to do that because Jones was second on the team in home runs. McGehee hit only 13 home runs in 155 games with the Brewers.
From the Yankees’ standpoint, the deal would make a lot of sense. They would be rid of Burnett and the two years and $33 million left on his contract (though the Yankees have offered to pay about $8 million of that for the Pirates) after two consecutive seasons in which he has posted ERAs about 5.00. The Yankees, on the other hand, would receive a player who could back up at first base and the corner outfield spots as well as be a DH against right-handed pitching. Jones would come at a reduced cost, too.
By obtaining Jones the Yankees could also forgo negotiations with free agents Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Raul Ibanez to fill the primary DH spot that was opened up when the Yankees traded rookie Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners for right-handed starter Michael Pineda.
Looking at the Pirates’ roster the Yankees would seem to have little interest or need for their spare infielders and outfielders. The Yankees also would seem not to have need for any of their major-league starters or relievers. The Yankees only possible interest would be in some of the Pirates young pitching prospects in order to stock their low minors with good prospects such as they did by obtaining 19-year-old right-hander Jose Campos from the Mariners in the Montero deal.
This trade is still alive but general manager Brian Cashman has some options here. It might just take some time. If it happens within the next few days it will be good news. If it does not it will mean the Pirates will likely look for pitching elsewhere and the Yankees will have to find another suitor for Burnett.