The maddening inconsistency that plagued A.J. Burnett is now someone
General manager Brian Cashman found a taker for him in
the Pittsburgh Pirates, who acquired him for minor
leaguers Diego Moreno and Exicardo Cayones, according to the YES Network. Reportedly they are not considered significant prospects.
The Yankees have already paid $49.5 million to Burnett and will get
assistance with the remaining 33 million. The
Pirates will contribute about $13 million of Burnett’s remaining salary.
Due to the amount of money changing hands, MLB had to approve the deal.
Moreno, 25, is a right-handed relief pitcher who finished last season in Double-A, where he had a 4.91 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 11 innings. He had a 3.21 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 44 2/3 innings in High-A last year. Cayones, 20, is a more highly thought of prospect, but is in just Single-A. The lefty outfielder had a .228 average and 14 runs scored in 38 games between Rookie and Low-A last season.
At his best, Burnett was the pitcher who struck out nine in seven innings of Game 2 of the 2009 World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies that evened the series.
At his worst, Burnett was the pitcher whose ERA in the previous two seasons was 5.15 and 5.26. That amounted to an unsightly 22-26 record and when the Yankees upgraded their rotation with the signing of Hiroki Kuroda and acquisition of Michael Pineda, Burnett was considered even more expendable.
Burnett’s name began being mentioned extensively in trade rumors earlier this month and before agreeing to send him to the Pirates, reports had the Angels and Indians in the mix. A proposed trade that would return Bobby Abreu to the Yankees had been reported, but the Angels are one of 10 teams in Burnett’s no-trade clause.
Another reported proposal was Travis Hafner coming from Cleveland for Burnett to fill the left-handed designated hitter spot. Hafner has $12 million remaining on his contract with a club option for 2013.
Burnett’s Yankee career began with a respectable 13-9 season in 2009 as the No. 2 starter behind CC Sabathia. He saved the Yankees from falling behind two games to none against the Phillies in the World Series, but after respectable starts to 2010 and 2011, he was disappointing and despite the frustration Yankee fans experienced watching Burnett, it was that World Series performance frequently cited by the team as the reason he remained a starter.
In 2010, Burnett began 6-2 with a 3.28 ERA. Then he went winless in June and August, finishing with a 10-15 record. He was so untrustworthy the Yankees did everything they could to avoid starting him in a playoff game until it was necessary in Game 4 of the ALCS.
Last year was more of the same. Burnett was 8-6 with a 4.05 ERA through three months and went 1-5 over the next two months with the lowest moment coming Aug. 20 in Minnesota when he appeared to get in a shouting match with manager Joe Girardi after allowing seven runs in 1 2/3 innings.
Burnett’s final two months became the most scrutinized storyline for the Yankees, who used a six-man rotation most of the second half. It escalated to the point that Cashman forcefully and profanely defended the signing on Aug. 12.
“He’s being treated differently publicly because he has money attached,” Cashman said. “So forgive him for saying yes to a contract. If you want to blame someone for his contract, blame me. But the man can still pitch.
“I think the stuff on A. J. is well overblown. A.J. has been solid for us this year. I just think that the way it’s playing doesn’t necessarily reflect how he’s pitched. The public outcry recently is all emotion rather than actual.”
By freeing themselves from the bloated five-year deal, some of the money can be spent to acquire a veteran bat to fill the role of a left-handed designated hitter. Those candidates include ex-Yankees Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Raul Ibanez.
Yankee fans might not be that passionate about who gets that money. They might be more pleased that one of the most frustrating pitchers in team history is someone else’s issue.
In actuality, Burnett might thrive pitching in the NL Central. His stuff is regarded as among the best in the game when his mechanics are right, plus he will be pitching in a division that no longer features Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. His home games will be played in a ballpark that yielded just 105 home runs as opposed to the 209 hit in Yankee Stadium in 2011.
Three years of 98 inconsistent starts were enough for the fans to hope he pitches elsewhere. This weekend their wish was granted.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.