I was off last week, required to take one week of vacation before the start of spring training. It was nice, a little bit of down time before things get hectic down in Tampa. And aside from the Bill Hall signing and a full list of non-roster invitations, I really didn’t miss much.
But it’s never that simple with the Yankees.
The real story of last week was A.J. Burnett, and the Yankees negotiations to trade the embattled right-hander to Pittsburgh. I believe it was my friend Marc Carig who pointed out that the Pirates essentially would be using their money to give the Yankees some salary relief. How’s that for a new concept?
Of course, all of this stirs a debate of what exactly Burnett is worth. What’s he worth to the Yankees, and what’s he worth to someone else? What’s it worth to simply have him off the roster?
Obviously the Yankees are going to have to pay some of Burnett’s remaining contract. In fact, in order to trade him, they’ll almost certainly have to pay most of his remaining contract. Essentially, the Pirates have to decide what they’re willing to pay for two years of Burnett.
Can the Pirates justify telling the Yankees that they’ll pay only two years, $10 million? That’s what Chris Capuano got with the Dodgers, and that’s basically what Bruce Chen got with the Royals. Could the Yankees argue that Burnett is worth more than that? Aaron Harang got two years, $12 million from the Dodgers. He was worse than Burnett in 2010, but better in 2011. Is Harang a reasonable comparision for fair market value, and if he is — meaning the Yankees would eat $21 million of Burnett’s deal — how much more should the Pirates give up in terms of minor league talent?
For the Yankees, there is an obvious acknowledgement that Burnett’s contract is a problem. The past two years, he’s pitched like an overpriced innings eater, and now that the rotation is overflowing, the Yankees have no place for that sort of pitcher. The question is, what’s the alternative? What of those resources can be salvaged and put to better use?
If the Pirates — or any team, really — is willing to pay $10-15 million for Burnett, that’s extra money the Yankees could spend on a hitter (or maybe two hitters now that veterans are settling for smaller deals). In the past, I’ve argued that trading Burnett might not make sense because the return would be so limited, but given the Yankees current roster situation — with too many pitchers and not enough offensive role players — a limited return could be legimtately helpful. For the Yankees current needs, a platoon designated hitter and a last man off the bench seem more valuable than Burnett.
The Yankees’ money is already spent. The franchise is committed to this Burnett contract, no matter what. In the next two years, they’re going to spend $33 million on something. Should they spend it to keep Burnett on the roster, or should they spend it to get rid of Burnett and sign a couple of role players? Burnett is going to get his money. The Yankees have to get the most bang for their buck, with or without Burnett himself.
Associated Press photo