Saturday, February 18, 2012

Reaction: Pirates trade two prospects for A.J. Burnett

This article fits under my Reaction heading of my blog.  Read more of my Reactions here.

The Pirates finally made a splash.  Actually, it might be better characterized as a small swell.  A splash was last year when we acquired Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick.  The Pirates haven't yet created a tropical storm, but the times they are a-changin'.  No longer is Pittsburgh just a triple-A club for other baseball teams around the league.  This time, the Pirates gave up the prospects and took on money in order to help facilitate a salary dump for another team.  This time, in a very strange turn of events, that team was the New York Yankees.

From the Yankees, the Pirates received talented but oft-maligned starting pitcher A.J. Burnett.  In exchange, the Pirates sent prospects Diego Moreno and Exicardo Cayones to the Yankees. In addition, the Yankees will provide the Pirates 20 million dollars to cover over half of the 33 million Burnett is owed over the next two years (some sources indicate that it's 18.1 million instead of 20 - stay tuned). Details on all three players after the jump and my opinion.

A.J. Burnett - Burnett is easily the biggest name in this deal.  Luckily for the Pirates, it's all but guaranteed that he will be the best player in the deal if someone bothers to take a look back in twenty years.  That's typical of salary dumps.  Burnett has often been lauded for having sensational stuff.  At age thirty-six, his fastball has lost a few ticks - from an average fastball around 96 in his prime to only 93 right now - but it's still a plus pitch.  His curveball is also lethal and together those two pitchers produce plenty of swing-and-misses.  Burnett also has a changeup and slider, and although he's traditionally been known as a two-pitch pitcher, he's added those two pitchers to his mix, throwing both around 10% of the time last year.

Burnett's last two years in New York have been the subject of significant criticism.  His ERA has been over 5.00 both years.  However, that does not tell the whole story.  Last year, Burnett had an xFIP of 3.86 but he got extremely unlucky with long balls (17% HR/FB).  Plus, Burnett will be moving from the AL East to the NL Central.  Last year, that move did wonders for Matt Garza.  Granted, the Ray turned Cub was moving the favorable way on the age curve while Burnett is thirty-five already and will not be.  Still, Garza saw his ERA drop by 0.59 and his FIP and xFIP each by over 1.00.  At that point, Pujols and Fielder were still in the division and Bruan was not facing a fifty game suspension.  All this bodes well for the Burnett and the Pirates.

Diego Moreno - Moreno is the more valuable of the two prospects shipped to the Yankees.  He has his negatives.  Moreno is twenty-five years old already and still hasn't pitched above AA ball.  He has had disciplinary issues, including a suspension last year stemming from kissing a fan in the dugout.  In addition, his command and control aren't the greatest.  In fact, his negatives were enough that it he was left unprotected in last year's rule 5 draft and went unclaimed.  That's telling because as a relief pitcher at his age with his electric arm could definitely stick on a major league roster if teams felt he was worthy of a rule 5 pick.  On that note, his arm is phenomenal.  He can hit 98 mph's and sits in the 94-96 range consistently.  Moreno also features a wipeout slider that has allowed him to post impressive strikeout numbers in his career.  He's worth a flyer for the Yankees and could turn up as an excellent reliever, but as a Pirate fan I'm not going to lose sleep over trading Moreno.

Exicardo Cayones - Cayones was the Pirates biggest international signing until Luis Heredia inked.  His bonus was a $400,000 and that instantly gave him name recognition among Pirates fans who followed the minor league system.  He looked to be worth the money early in 2010 when he came out of the gates in mid-June stateside for the GCL Pirates.  Cayones capped off a great two weeks with a seven-for-seven explosion on July 6th during a doubleheader.  Even though he faded down the stretch, the future looked bright for the kid who was still only eighteen years old.

Then 2011 happened. Cayones struggled mightily after a promotion to State College.  He struggled enough that he was demoted back to the GCL.  There he did decently, but his ISO was only .134 and at the age of twenty Cayones seemed stalled.  The problem for Cayones seems to come in his physical development.  Cayones is fairly small - listed at all only six foot, but that may be generous - so he doesn't have tons of physical projection.  Unfortunately, reports indicate that he has lost some foot speed and will have to move off centerfield.  In a rapidly changing prospect landscape, Cayones's stock has dropped sharply over the last year or two, and many prospects have moved past him in the Pirates system.  Not a bad prospect to ship off to New York.

Reaction - It's not a huge trade.  This isn't a Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers trade. Thus, it won't have a season-altering impact.  Still it's a nice trade for the Pirates that I think will do plenty of good.  Moreno is intriguing, but not a huge loss and Cayones is almost an afterthought at this point.  Best case scenario, Burnett pitches out of his mind and other pieces fit together for a magical playoff run.  Worst case scenario, the Pirates lose two 'meh' prospects, as they were characterized and spend 13 million dollars over the next two years for nothing (although this is NOT a Matt Morris situation).  More likely case scenario and one I hope for (although less than the best case) is Burnett finds new life in a Pirates uniform in the NL Central.  He then pitches well enough to garner trade interest at the deadline and the Pirates move him for much better pieces than they gave up.  Good trade Neal Huntington.


  1. I think it's $18.1 million because the Yankees have already paid him $1.9 million this year. So it winds up that the Pirates pay him $13 million anyway.

  2. thanks for the analysis. . good read