NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 09: A.J. Burnett #34 of the New York Yankees reacts after striking out Vernon Wells #10 the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (not pictured) for the third out on August 09, 2011 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
The latest rumor has A.J. Burnett perhaps going to Pittsburgh for Garrett Jones. Which makes sense for the Yankees, who are looking for a lefty bat. But why would the Pirates want Burnett?
At some point, theSituation will go from the sublime to the ridiculous, with a bunch of GMs in a diner pointing guns at each other and yelling to be cool.
What, what? The Yankees are trying to trade Burnett -- and presumably a stack of silver dollars that could stretch from the Earth to the Moon and back -- for Garrett Jones? I guess it's already ridiculous.
Look, the Yankees need a platoon partner for Andruw Jones. The once-future Hall of Famer does pretty well against left-handed pitchers, but you don't want him DHing for you every day. And if I had to choose between Raul Ibanez, Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui -- all supposedly still in play for the Yankees -- I would probably look for other options, too.
But just this week the Yankees signed Russell Branyan to a minor-league contract.
Russ Branyan's got an 833 career OPS against right-handed pitchers.
Garrett Jones has an 838 career OPS against right-handed pitchers.
Granted, Jones can play more positions decently, and he's also six years younger than Branyan. One thing that would concern me, though: Jones has played in the majors in only three seasons, and his best season was his first. By a lot. Jones is a better, more durable player than Branyan, and probably a better hitter. But not by a lot.
Still, Jones would probably make the Yankees better than they are today, as would jettisoning Burnett and his Super Amazing Exploding Earned-Run Average. The question isn't, in the slightest, why the Yankees would make such a deal. Aside from the temporary embarrassment of the headlines -- You paid how much for what when you signed Burnett three years ago? -- this should be an easy call for Brian Cashman. Get rid of a player who won't help you and acquire a player who might, money be damned. Perfect example of a sunk cost. You're going to spend another $33 million on Burnett, regardless; might as well get something for your money.
Everyone seems to have been focusing on Burnett leaving the Yankees and Jones joining the Yankees, because Yankees. But that's not the interesting side of the equation. The interesting side of the equation is Pirates. Because why on earth would the Pittsburgh Pirates be interested in a pitcher like A.J. Burnett? Even if he's essentially free?
Because he would essentially be free. Because Garrett Jones has seen his best days, most likely, and almost certainly won't be a particularly useful player when (if) the Pirates are ready to really contend for a place in the postseason tournament (no, last year doesn't count). This spring might be the last time the Pirates can get much of value for Garrett Jones, and a pitcher who gives you 200 innings and strikes out twice as many as he walks does have some value.
Or might, anyway. Burnett's biggest problem in each of the last two seasons was home runs. He gave up 56 of them, fourth-most in the majors and all three guys ahead of him pitched more innings. Yankee Stadium is an excellent place for left-handed-hitting power hitters; Pittsburgh's PNC Park is unfriendly to lefty-hitting power hitters. It would be foolish to suggest that pitching half his games in Pittsburgh will automatically restore Burnett's once-formidable powers. But maybe Yankee Stadium is Burnett's red sun, and there's a yellow sun where the Monongahela and the Allegheny become the Ohio.
So what if Burnett pitches better as a Pirate? If he pitches better, he'll be both effective and cheap -- because the Yankees will be paying most of the freight -- and thus desirable to contending teams this summer, particularly considering that he's under contract through 2013. If he pitches better, and especially if he pitches well, the Pirates might then flip Burnett in July for a couple of prospects ... which is more than they could ever get for Garrett Jones.
Would I trade for A.J. Burnett, were I the Pittsburgh Pirates? That's impossible to answer without consulting my scouts and my doctors, and it's really early in the morning and I can't get any of those lazy bastards on the phone. But depending on how big a check the Yankees are willing to write, I sure would give it some serious thought.