It is becoming more apparent that the Yankees are more interested in unloading A.J. Burnett’s salary more than anything else and Burnett carries little trade value. The Pirates will most likely be able to acquire Burnett by taking on half his salary and throwing in a couple minor leaguers. The Yankees are desperate to keep their payroll below the $178 million cap with any amounts over that being subjected to the 42% luxury tax. As it stands now, Burnett would be battling Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia for the final spot in the Yankees rotation. Burnett would be unlikely to win the spot. The Yankees also are still in search of a left-handed bat and a designated hitter.
The Pirates must be desperate for starting pitching depth to be seriously considering taking on Burnett, especially if it costs over $10 million. It is understandable why the Bucs are concerned for their rotation. Jeff Karstens was their most effective starter last year, but is subject to fading as the season wears on. James McDonald had difficulty going deep into games. Charlie Morton and Kevin Correia are coming off injuries with Morton unlikely to be available to start the season. Erik Bedard has a history of injuries too. Brad Lincoln looked overwhelmed last season and does not look ready to carry a burden beyond a spot start here and there. Daniel McCutchen pitched well enough out of the pen for two consecutive years and could possibly be given another chance in the rotation, but it appears unlikely at this point beyond a spot start or two.
There have been rumors of Philadelphia’s Joe Blanton. The Phillies also wish to avoid the luxury tax, but there is no reason for the Pirates to pursue Blanton who himself is coming off an injury and is not even a good pitcher. Washington’s John Lannan is also spoken of as a possibility. Lannan has control challenges and never gets past the 7th inning, but he is capable of being effective. If the Pirates can pick up Lannan without giving up much, then I would strongly support the move. Even with Lannan making $5 million. This would at least get them through until Morton comes back and provide a little depth to get through the season.
UPDATE – The Yankees had previously stated they wanted a deal done before spring training begins, which is this coming weekend. No other serious trading partners have emerged and the Bucs seem content to sit and wait. This strategy has not worked for them in the past, but I think in this case that is precisely what they should do. There is no sense the Pirates giving up any prospects. A trade for Burnett is more about worse-case scenarios if the trade doesn’t happen than best-case scenarios if it does. Worst case is having pitchers too young and inexperienced forced into the rotation on the way to another 100 loss season. Best case is 33 starts for Burnett, finish 4th in division despite another losing season.