A.J. Burnett Trade Rumors: Why His New York Yankees Career Is About to End

Doug MeadCorrespondent IFebruary 10, 2012

A.J. Burnett Trade Rumors: Why His New York Yankees Career Is About to End

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    New York Yankees starting pitcher A.J. Burnett's experience in the Big Apple appears to have run its course.

    According to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, the Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates are currently mired in negotiations that would have the Yankees shipping Burnett and a considerable wad of cash to the Steel City.

    Apparently, Yankees GM Brian Cashman has finally seen the light. Just nine days ago, Cashman told a crowd at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut that he was comfortable with Burnett in his starting rotation.

    "I am comfortable with A.J.," Cashman said. "He's extremely talented and has been inconsistent, but I can tell you I'm comfortable with the effort he's giving, I'm comfortable with everything that he does, the accountability that comes with him. Obviously, we signed him to have more success than he's having, but it's a competitive industry and as long as he's not going to give up on himself, then I'm going to have his back the entire way."

    Well, now, it seems that Cashman's comfort level wore thin extremely quickly.

    Within days of Cashman uttering that statement, the rumor mill was awash with possible landing spots for Burnett, and it now appears that the Pirates will be the likely winners.

    Does it make sense for Cashman to unload Burnett at this point? Here are some reasons why it absolutely makes sense to deal Burnett while the iron's hot.

It's All About Luxury Tax Relief, Baby

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    Under MLB's new collective bargaining agreement, the New York Yankees' luxury tax rate will increase to 42.5 percent in 2012, as teams are penalized heavier for exceeding the luxury tax threshold several times in a row. 

    The rate will rise again to 50 percent in 2013 if New York continues to break that threshold, which currently stands at $178 million.

    The Yankees have paid over $200 million into the pot since 2003 for their lofty payroll, and the new CBA harshly penalizes teams for multiple offenses, so to speak.

    Dealing A.J. Burnett now and freeing up at least some of his salary makes sense for a team that has grown weary of giving money away for other clubs to use as they wish.

Inconsistency Will Get You Nowhere

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    The maddening inconsistency of A.J. Burnett, especially over the past two seasons, has driven Yankees fans absolutely crazy, not to mention Yankees brass.

    Burnett's first year in the Bronx at least showed some promise—a 13-9 record, an ERA just slightly lower than the previous season and a Yankees championship that accompanied his first year.

    However, the past two seasons have seen a WHIP bordering on 1.50, pitch counts that have required bullpen relief way too early and exasperation from fans who demand much more from a player making $16.5 million per year.

    Burnett has always had the stuff that makes scouts and management salivate, but he has never been able to show a command that maximizes the efficiency of that great stuff.

Keeping Burnett Only Thwarts Progress of Prospects

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    Over the past couple of seasons, Yankees GM Brian Cashman has steadfastly refused to include top-tier pitching prospects Manuel Banuelos and Dellin Betances in any trade talks with other teams.

    The Killer Bees are clearly a major part of the future for the New York Yankees, and that future is coming up quickly. While it's unlikely that either of them will be on the opening day roster, either of them could be impacting the starting rotation at some point in 2012, and almost assuredly for 2013.

    Hanging on to A.J. Burnett and his hit-or-miss efforts keeps a roster spot locked up, and roster spots during the season—especially before Sept. 1—are a precious commodity.

Does It Make Financial Sense to Pay $16.5 Million for a Possible Fifth Starter?

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    In just one week in late January, Cashman addressed the biggest issue of the offseason—rotation depth. By trading for Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Michael Pineda and signing free agent Hiroki Kuroda, Cashman answered that issue in resounding fashion.

    Now, with a rotation that features CC Sabathia, Pineda, Ivan Nova and Kuroda at the top, the Yankees can trot out a rotation that rivals any in the American League.

    A.J. Burnett will be battling for the lone spot in the rotation along with Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes, giving Cashman a luxury he didn't have before—depth.

    At this point, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to be paying $16.5 million to a player who might not even crack the rotation.

Unloading Burnett Frees Up Money for a Reliable Designated Hitter

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    With the moves that Cashman made to address starting rotation depth (Pineda and Kuroda), it left only one issue to be resolved—finding a quality designated hitter.

    Jesus Montero certainly could have filled that role nicely, however, the Pineda deal nixed that. Keeping in mind the luxury tax issue, dealing Burnett at this point allows Cashman to go after a quality DH without using additional money that would almost certainly cost the Yankees a lot extra at the end of the season once again.

    Raul Ibanez appears to be the top candidate for the role, and former Yankee Johnny Damon's name has been discussed as well.

    Hideki Matsui and Eric Chavez have also been mentioned, and the Yankees loved Chavez's presence last year as a fill-in for Alex Rodriguez at third, as well as for his presence in the clubhouse.

     

    Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle. Follow Doug on Twitter, @Sports_A_Holic.