A.J. Burnett: Pittsburgh Pirates Learned Something from Failed Matt Morris Deal

Tom AuSenior Analyst IIApril 22, 2012

Even a veteran pitcher with a good record can fall apart toward the end of his career. One of those people was Matt Morris in 2007.

It is at least possible that A.J. Burnett may fall into this category. Especially after his eye injury and three shaky rehab starts in the minors.

This, of course, is worst-case scenario. Most managers don't base their decisions on such outcomes, even though they are possible.

As in 2007, the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates were looking to "recycle" a pitcher who was a disappointment to his previous team. That pitcher was the New York Yankees' Burnett this year, and the San Francisco Giants' Morris in 2007. But this time they did it more intelligently.

In 2007, the Pirates offered to pick up about $13 million of salary for 1.3 years remaining on Morris' contract, or $10 million per. This time, the Pirates picked up $13 million of salary for two remaining years, or $6.5 million per.

Like the Giants, the Yankees wanted a second-level player, a "draw" if you will. This was Garrett Jones, in the case of the Yankees, and Rajai Davis in the case of the Giants.  (Davis had a "breakout" for Toronto in spring training, but not a full season in 2011.)

While such players are basically long shots, the Pirates need to retain the right to "get lucky" with such players occasionally. They ceded Davis to the Giants but held the line on Jones.

Based on his record, "average expectations" for Burnett figures to be that of the former Pirate, Paul Maholm, or one game above league average.

Maholm would be worth over $11 million (assuming that his new team, the Chicago Cubs, picks up his option for 2013) versus $13 million for Burnett. One consolation is that Burnett's statistics were skewed upward by designated hitters in American League parks, which is to say that the change in leagues might give him additional value over Maholm.

But last night's debut against the National League-leading St. Louis Cardinals showed the possible best-case scenario for Burnett; a true, top-of-the-rotation starter for a bargain price. If that's the case, with his two-year contract, he'd be a bridge to 2014 with the likes of Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole coming on board, hopefully at the top of the rotation by then.

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