Is A.J. Burnett about to get voted off the island?

Option #1: Keep everybody:

With 12 pitchers for 12 spots on the staff, the Yankees could keep everyone on the roster if they’re willing to use two of Burnett, Phil Hughes, and Freddy Garcia in the bullpen. That’s not unthinkable by any means. One of the non-starters could easily slot into the long reliever/sixth starter role without much of a problem, while the other could become the last man in the bullpen. The problem, however, is that you kind of need that last guy to make actual relief appearances at times, especially with the way Joe Girardi likes to disperse the workload he puts on his bullpen. You can’t merely stash two starting pitchers out there in case they’re needed in the rotation later. So the most likely configuration of this option involves Burnett as the fifth starter, Freddy Garcia is the long reliever role, and Phil Hughes becoming a bona fide relief pitcher. If this reality comes to pass, you can expect me to write something disparaging about it.

Option #2: Trade Burnett

Yankee fans have been dreaming about this for months, but with very little likelihood of anything happening. Put simply, for the Yankees to get someone to take Burnett off of their hands, they’d have to eat a large amount of his contract, effectively paying him $20 million or more to pitch for another team. That’s usually not an attractive proposition, but if there’s simply no room for Burnett on the Yankees’ roster, that fact may tip the scales in favor of dumping Burnett for whatever amount of payroll relief the Yankees can get out of the deal. If the Yankees can save even somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million over each of the next two seasons, which would require them to eat $25 million of Burnett’s remaining salary, it could go a long way at the margins, helping the budget conscientious Yankees scrape up the change for an upgrade at the DH position while finding another utility infielder. It would be a bitter pill to swallow to send Burnett packing while retaining that much of his cost, but it clearly makes the most sense from both a financial and roster standpoint right now. The problem, of course, is finding another team that wants to pay A.J. any amount of money in 2012 and 2013, in which case you’d be left with…

Option #3: Release Burnett:

Normally the prospect of a Major League Baseball team releasing a player they owe $33 million over two seasons to would be close to unthinkable, but with the added opportunity cost of the wasted roster spot in play, it’s actually sort of feasible that the Yankees would just cut bait with Burnett and eat the money if they can’t find another way to move him. I’d still say it’s pretty unlikely, however.

Option #4: Make Burnett a reliever:

This option has been bandied about since the beginning of last year or so as an option for dealing with the end of Burnett’s contract. It probably wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world, though it’s a less attractive option than trading him. The thinking is that Burnett’s fastball-curveball combo would play well in relief and that A.J. would benefit from not having to turn the lineup over. Again, it’s less ideal than getting someone to take a little bit of his contract off of your hands, but it’s probably preferable to just releasing him first. Who knows, maybe Burnett can thrive in the role and salvage at least a little bit of value.

Option #5: Make Hughes a reliever:

The flip-side of option five is deciding to make Hughes a reliever once and for all and, on a certain level, it makes more sense than doing the same with Burnett. Unlike A.J., Hughes actually has a track record of coming out of the bullpen for middle relief work, and he has performed quite well in the role. The ability to empty the tank and limit his exposure makes his lack of a secondary arsenal less important and allows him to feature his fastball much more prominently, which Hughes is obviously more comfortable doing. Still, doing this now will essentially end Hughes’ potential career as a starting pitcher which, given the ability he flashed in 2010, would seem like a pretty odd decision for a team that’s otherwise loaded with talent in the bullpen. I can certainly see the Yankees throwing in the towel on Phil this spring, but I very much hope they don’t simply for the sake of continuing to try to straighten out Burnett.

Option #6: Trade Hughes:

The most tantalizing option, in my opinion, but also the most esoteric. After a year and a half of struggling for various reasons and just two years away from free agency, Hughes’ trade value is pretty much at rock bottom right now, which makes trading him a difficult proposition. At best, you could maybe find someone willing to give you an upgrade at DH for this year in exchange for taking Hughes on as a reclamation project, but if you think Philip still has potential as a starter, that becomes a very short-sighted deal. The only way I see this option coming to fruition is if Hughes becomes a supplemental piece in a trade swapping a more valuable commodity like Manny Banuelos or Dellin Betances for a position player.

Barring such a trade, my preference is for Hughes  to get the first crack at being the 5th starter, Garcia to fill the long-reliever/sixth starter role, and A.J. Burnett to play his home games somewhere far, far away from the Bronx. Anyone disagree?

27 thoughts on “Is A.J. Burnett about to get voted off the island?

  1. Adam Dunagan

    IMHO
    - Burnett gets traded, the Cardinal and dodgers actually make sense.
    - Hughes to the pen, will play a Ramiro Mendoza type role in a Jack of all trades master on none role.
    - Garcia Slides into the number 5 spot.

  2. Ben

    I agree with you completely. The Yanks need to be forward thinking on this 5th starter quandary. Hughes is under control and young and his first half of 2010 is reason to believe he can be successful. 2011 he experienced the "Verducci" effect where he threw well over 30 innings than he did in 2009. This effect has affected other young pitchers like Latos, Cecil and others. Check it out on SI.com. I still think Hughes has something left and if he is working as hard as everyone says he is, then he could crack the rotation. Freddy is great to have as an insurance policy. As for Burnett, I think you try him as a reliever. Of course, spring training will bear results. I just hope Hughes out performs everybody and shows that he's back, that way there isn't nearly as much controversy.

  3. Dan

    I almost agree with you completely. The one point I want to nitpick is that Yankee fans haven't been dreaming about trading Burnett for months, but years (at least I have).

  4. David

    I've seen people around here toss out the albatross-for-albatross trade of Burnett to the Cubbies for Soriano, since there's reason to believe that actually helps both teams while not shedding the contracts (Burnett seems better in the NL potentially and the Yanks have need of a DH/terrible-4th OF).

    Other than the Soriano contract running a year longer and being slightly more expensive, he hits lefties better than righties and, theoretically, would be a "1-2mm DH" (if you count the sunk cost of AJ's salary).

    I haven't seen any real counter-arguments and would be interested to see what they are (other than the obvious of "salary" and "Theo").

  5. skeaney

    Maybe there is something to AJ becoming a reliever.

    Here are his inning splits: Innings 1-3: 2.59 SO/BB rate, .706 OPS allowed Innings 4-6: 1.65 SO/BB rate, .900 OPS allowed

    More interestingly is his splits between the 1st, 2nd and 3rd innings: 1st: 3.63 SO/BB rate, .678 OPS allowed 2nd: 1.65 SO/BB rate, .881 OPS allowed 3rd: 3.78 SO/BB rate, .522 OPS allowed

    So he is stronger in the first 3rd of the game except he tends to be destroyed in the 2nd inning before stepping up again in the 3rd. Now the sample size isn't huge, roughly 32 innings in each and 110-130 plate appearances, but it appears he either loses control or starts working around hitters in the 2nd. His BB rate skyrockets and he also doubles his homerun rate (again, small sample size). His BAbip is interesting… with it going .273, .333, .188 but again, sample size.

    As for what happens in innings 4-6, this seems to reflect heavily on going back through the batting order: 1st PA in G: 2.69 SO/BB, .696 OPS 2nd PA in G: 2.32 SO/BB, .806 OPS 3rd PA in G: 1.34 SO/BB, .940 OPS

    Based on his pitch count splits, it doesn't appear to be related to any kind of fatigue as his numbers are consistent between pitches 1 and 100.

    Of course it makes more sense to trade him but that seems unlikely.

    He also appears to do better with 4 days of rest as compared to 5+.

  6. Dave

    I don't think Burnett will be traded because Cashman has been so loyal to him so far. I'd bet that we go into the season with AJ in the 5th spot, Freddy as long relief, and the hope that Hughes can recapture that 2009 impact reliever mojo when he averaged 10 k's/9 and had an ERA+ just over 150. That would team him with Robertson (13 k's/9), Rivera (8.8 k's/9), and Soriano (8.2 k's/9) to form the most overpowering bullpen in the Majors. Joba will get back at some point next season as well and games will become 5 inning affairs because that bullpen will shut you down.

    • Dan

      Giving up on Hughes right now is absolutely ridiculous. He's only 25, he's coming off a terrible year after a solid one, he could be the type of guy who starts the season as the number 5 starter and emerges as the number 2/3. The situation reminds me of James Shields (although Shields's peripherals were stronger, and he has better secondary pitches).

      Dump Burnett, eat a ton of his money and get rid of him, or do a bad contract swap for Lee or Soriano or Bay (so long as they get out of the vesting option) if you think they can get the same production as whatever DH platoon they'd have otherwise when you factor in the amount of money they'd have to eat in trading AJ otherwise (Could be as much as $20 million according to Jon Heyman of CBS -https://twitter.com/#!/JonHeymanCBS/statuses/159983302697160705).

  7. williamjtasker

    I so hope Dave isn't right. Agree with you, Brien.

  8. BeanTooth

    Axisa gives the AJ for Bay trade a going-over. Could be a possibility, although unlikely. http://riveraveblues.com/2012/01/revisiting-the-b

    • BrienJackson

      I don't really understand even playing footsie with that idea. Shifting the bad money to the lineup where a) the Yankees don't need a ton of help and b) they'll be able to get the help they do need at a relatively low cost doesn't actually help them much and, as Mike notes, Bay also has a $17 million vesting option on the back end of the deal which, if triggered, would be a huge albatross given their 2014 payroll target.

      Or, in other words, it's a great deal for the Mets and a terrible one for the Yankees.

  9. Kevin S.

    A) 2014 is the target year for getting under the tax.

    B) Andruw Jones

  10. jay_robertson

    Why not send Hughes down to Scranton – let him get stretched out, DEVELOP a third or fourth pitch, and be ready when someone gets injured or falters. (Which could easily be either AJ or Freddy)

    He has an option left; shoot – it worked for Nova last year – that example alone should be enough to get Phil actively campaigning a rejuv trip to the minors. (Joba also has options – send em both back down to get stretched out and DEVELOP – I still think both Joba and Phil have more potential as starters than either of the Bs)

    • Jacques

      Great Idea.
      I doubt Cashman will try Joba as a starter, but I really believe Joba should be a starter again. He is still 26 years old and coming off of an injury. What else more can the Yankees lose out of him? The bullpen (hopefully) would be in good shape by June so that Yanks have the flexibility to send him down. By then, I would expect either Warren, Phelps, or Mitchell to crack the big league roster as a long reliver, which opens up a spot for Joba to slide in after rehabs.

  11. JEP

    Unless they're somehow overwhelmed with a deal, I don't think the Yankees should do anything with their starters for the immediate future. In theory they have 7 starters, but Hughes and Garcia have had health problems in the recent past and three of the starters are 35 or older. I think the odds are decent that at least one of the seven won't go north with the team in April due to a minor (or major) injury.
    Burnett is lame but he has stayed healthy, pitches a lot of innings, and usually gives you a 500 record–all qualities that would probably make him one of the best #5 starters in the league.
    They can always make a deal or move people to the bullpen late in spring training.

  12. Here's a question: If the Yankees trade Burnett, but pay off a chunk of his contract, does the portion that they pay off still count in their total for the year (as in, do they have to pay luxury tax on it?) Or is it a situation whereby paying $20 million to another team along with Burnett takes his whole salary off of their books for the season, and therefore actually saves the team both the savings on the contract, and the luxury cost of the whole shebang?

    • BrienJackson

      I think the portion they pay counts towards their luxury tax bill, but I might be wrong about that.

    • ChipBuck

      Burnett's salary will count towards the luxury tax, but it'll be proportional to the average annual salary of his contract. For instance, his contract's AAV is $16.5M. If the Yankees agree to eat $25M of the remaining $33M (over two years), they're agreeing to pay 75.8% of his remaining deal. 75.8% of $16.5M is approximately $12.5M per season. That number will count against the Yankees toward the luxury tax, while the remaining $4M will count against the receiving team's calculation.

  13. MIkeayankeefan

    I agree with everyone BYE BYE A.J.

  14. mcmastro

    IMO, the trading of Burnett makes total sense, but the Yankees need to keep Garcia. His contract is not going to be a burden on the team at all and if Hughes struggles in the rotation (where i would put him) then Garcia can easily slide in there.

    • BrienJackson

      Since Garcia just signed a new contract, they can't trade him until mid-season without his consent.

  15. Dmitry Choklin

    I think it would be foolish to trade or stash Hughes in the pen. He still has good stuff, especially seeing the movement and velocity more or less return towards years end. There is no reason to think he doesn't have at least #3 upside. AJ is aweful, and consistently so. Garcia is a #5 cieling, 5.9 k/9 and .6 gb/fb, none of which are likely to improve. stash garcia in long relief role, either trade AJ or if you can't, stash him in the 5th/6th inning role, ala Ayala last year. ALWAYS keep the high upside play.

  16. David, Jr.

    Your #5 would be kind of interesting if it were changed to: Groom Hughes To Be Successor to Mo

    He certainly showed that kind of ability before, and they just might think that he would be more efficient at it than Robertson would be.

    • mcmastro

      I'm not sure if they've given up the Joba project yet :(

  17. Dave

    Moving Phil to the bullpen in no way giving up on him. He could easily pitch 70+ innings and make spot starts when needed. If he settles into the bullpen again that would make him an insanely valuable arm, especially considering the way October baseball has been played the last couple of seasons. Texas and St. Louis got to the Series by slugging and shutting the game down after 5 innings. This Yankee team, which has finished 2nd, 1st, and 1st in offense the last 3 years is perfectly built to do just that. Hughes only improves what was the best bullpen in the AL last year.

    I think management will enter Spring Training thinking that AJ will be the 5 because of Phil's experience in the bullpen. Plus it's a better allocation of resources, than just dumping AJ, who granted hasn't done much, or trading him for an even worse albatross. Any deal the Yankees make is a losing deal because no value will be coming back and we will only be stuck with more money.

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