New Pirates acquisition A.J. Burnett pitches for the Yankees during the first inning of Game 4 of baseball's American League division series against the Detroit Tigers in October.
By Bill Brink and Michael Sanserino Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates and New York Yankees reached an agreement today 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.
Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig must approve the transaction because it involves a transfer of more than $1 million. The deal is also pending a physical.
Serious negotiations lasted more than a week between the two teams.
It is not known which prospects will be involved, though reports suggested that right-hander Diego Moreno could be one of them. They will not be high-level prospects; a source indicated earlier in the week that the Pirates preferred to pay more of Burnett's salary rather than part with higher-caliber prospects.
Burnett, 35, went 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA last season and had a 5.00-plus ERA in 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.
The money Pirates will contribute to Burnett's salary will raise the Pirates' estimated 40-man roster payroll to about $51 million.
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 salary to less than the $189 million luxury tax threshold in 2014. They had seven pitchers competing for rotation spots after acquiring Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda during the winter.
The New York Mets drafted Burnett in the eighth round of the 1995 draft, but he made his debut with the Florida Marlins in 1999. He pitched for the Marlins for seven seasons before signing as a free agent with the Blue Jays in December 2005.
In 2008, Burnett's 18-10 record and league-leading 231 strikeouts in 2211/3 innings in 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, has been rough. He had a 34-35 record in three seasons and a 4.79 ERA. He led the league in wild pitches in 2009 and '11, and in hit batsmen in 2010.
For all his struggles, Burnett provides the Pirates' rotation with durability and swing-and-miss pitches, something the pitch-to-contact staff lacked in 2011. He made at least 32 starts in each of the past four seasons and pitched at least 1862/3 innings in each of those seasons. He struck out 8.3 batters per nine innings over the past four seasons and struck out 173 in 1901/3 in 2011.
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 due to 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 the 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 could also wait to see how Morton progresses, or if one of their starters struggles or gets hurt in spring training, and decide at that time.