10 February 2012
Word is out that the New York Yankees are interested in trading away starting pitcher AJ Burnett. The Tigers, apparently not satisfied to simply hand the final rotation spot to Jacob Turner, Drew Smyly, Andy Oliver, Duane Below, or Adam Wilk, have been passively searching for an external candidate to fill the role. Could there be a fit here?
Burnett has had his fair share of struggles the last couple of years (his final ERA was above five each of the last two seasons), but his “stuff” appears to be solid (his K/9 rate was 8.18 last year), and his elevated ERA is directly tied to a seemingly unsustainably high home run rate. His xFIP was only 3.86 in 2011, so if his home run rate normalized, then he would revert to being an effective pitcher. Perhaps a ballpark that’s friendly toward fly balls would help.
The Yankees owe Burnett $33 million over the next two years, so in order for any sort of deal to make sense, they would need to be willing to eat around $25 million of that. Even with his home run problems last year, he was a 1.1 to 1.5 WAR player (depending on which system you prefer), so paying $4 million per season wouldn’t be outrageous.
Obviously there are a couple of issues to deal with. First, Detroit could in no way overpay to make this deal happen (and why would you want to). I’d wouldn’t like to see the Tigers on the hook for more than $8 million (total), and I certainly wouldn’t like to see them giving up more than a C-list prospect. We’re talking sweetheart deals only. Secondly, Detroit likely isn’t looking externally for a two-year guy. Even if Turner et al. aren’t ready for the big leagues this season, one of them almost certainly will be looking to take a rotation spot the following year. The Tigers could try to flip Burnett at the end of the season, but best case there is probably getting someone to take most of his contract.
It’s not necessarily a perfect match, but if the Yankees are desperate to move him, and if they’re willing to pay a significant amount in order to do so, then it could be a good move for the Tigers. Burnett’s floor for 2012 is probably 1 WAR, which would probably allow Detroit to nearly “break even”, but his ceiling could be as high as 3 WAR, and that would turn the deal into a steal.
Matt Snyder is the editor of The Tigers Den. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.