New spin on the rotation: Pirates acquire strikeout ace A.J. Burnett

Sent over from Yankees for two prospects; teams will split his salary next two years


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BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates and New York Yankees reached an agreement Friday that will send right-handed starter A.J. Burnett to Pittsburgh, according to a source.

The Yankees will pay $20 million of the remaining $33 million owed Burnett over the next two seasons, and the Pirates will send two prospects to the Yankees, the source said. The Yankees will receive pitcher Diego Moreno and outfielder Exicardo Cayones, according to The Associated Press.

Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig must approve the transaction because it involves a transfer of more than $1 million. The deal also is pending on Burnett passing a physical.

Serious negotiations lasted more than a week.

Burnett, 35, went 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA in 2011 and had a 5.00-plus ERA each of the past two seasons. He signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract before the 2009 season after opting out of a five-year, $55 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays.

He won a World Series title with the Florida Marlins in '03 and another with the Yankees in '09.

But Burnett made only four starts for the '03 Marlins before having "Tommy John" surgery, and he did not pitch in the playoffs or World Series.

The Pirates will pay $5 million of Burnett's salary in '12, according to reports, and $8 million in '13. The money they will contribute to Burnett's salary will raise the Pirates' estimated 40-man roster payroll for '12 to about $50 million.

Moreno, 25, went 2-4 with a 3.63 ERA in 41 appearances in '11, splitting time between Class A Bradenton and Class AA Altoona. Cayones, 20, hit .293 with the Pirates' rookie league affiliate in '11 but struggled after his promotion to short-season State College.

Unable to lure free-agent starters such as Edwin Jackson to Pittsburgh, the Pirates turned to the trade market, where the Yankees made Burnett available due to a crowded rotation and, of all things, salary-cap concerns. The Yankees wanted to clear Burnett's salary, according to reports, to sign a left-handed designated hitter and hope to reduce their total salaries to less than the $189 million luxury-tax threshold in '14. They had seven pitchers in line to compete for rotation spots after acquiring Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda this winter.

The New York Mets drafted Burnett in the eighth round of the 1995 draft, but he made his debut with the Marlins in '99. He pitched for the Marlins for seven seasons before signing as a free agent with the Blue Jays in December '05.

In '08, Burnett's 18-10 record and league-leading 231 strikeouts in 2211/3 innings for Toronto created the opportunity for a larger contract, and he seized it by opting out and signing with the Yankees. His time in New York, however, was rough. He had a 34-35 record in three seasons and a 4.79 ERA. He led the league in wild pitches in '09 and '11, and in hit batsmen in '10.

The trade will reunite Burnett with Rod Barajas, his catcher in Toronto for his stellar '08 season. The Pirates signed Barajas this offseason.

Despite his recent struggles, Burnett, a 13-year veteran, provides the Pirates rotation with durability and swing-and-miss pitches, something the pitch-to-contact staff lacked in '11. He made at least 32 starts in each of the past four seasons and pitched at least 1862/3 innings each of those years. He struck out 8.3 batters per nine innings over the past four seasons and struck out 173 in 1901/3 in '11.

The Pirates rotation struggled with durability last season and could face similar issues this year. Charlie Morton had surgery in October to repair a torn labrum in his left hip. He and pitching coach Ray Searage recently said he was ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation, but he could miss the start of the season.

Kevin Correia ended the season on the disabled list with a strained oblique, Jeff Karstens skipped starts due to fatigue and Erik Bedard, a free-agent signing, has a history of injuries. McDonald also had a mild oblique injury in spring training, and, given his early struggles after returning to the rotation, the Pirates may be cautious with Morton.

Acquiring Burnett will force the Pirates to adjust their rotation. They could move Karstens to the bullpen, where he has pitched before, but he was one of the National League's best starters for portions of last season. They also could wait to see how Morton progresses or, if one of their starters struggles or gets hurt in spring training, make the adjustments then.

The Pirates must remove a player from their 40-man roster to make room for Burnett.


Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and Twitter @BrinkPG. Michael Sanserino: msanserino@post-gazette.com and Twitter @msanserino. First Published February 18, 2012 5:00 AM


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