What Can The Yankees Do With A.J. Burnett?

A.J. Burnett of the New York Yankees reacts as he walks back to the dugout after allowing two runs in the top of the third inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)

The Yankees have been "quietly, but diligently" trying to trade A.J. Burnett so they can sign a lefthanded-hitting DH. They're not likely to succeed.

On December 12, 2008, after two good seasons with the Blue Jays, A.J. Burnett signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract with the New York Yankees.

The Yankees had just missed the playoffs for the first time in 14 years; one of the perceived reasons was a lack of starting pitching depth. Thirteen different pitchers started games for the '08 Yankees including Kei Igawa, Darrell Rasner, Dan Giese and Ian Kennedy (now that's the guy they should have kept).

The Yankees also signed CC Sabathia that offseason. One out of two ain't bad. Sabathia has been as advertised.

Burnett has been ... bad. He hasn't missed a start due to injury, but the Yankees probably wish he had. He's made 99 appearances (98 starts) for them and posted a 4.79 ERA and in 2011 gave up the second-most home runs by any AL pitcher (31).

So, according to Joel Sherman in the New York Post, the Yankees have been "quietly -- but diligently" trying to trade Burnett.

I'd say the Yankees are quietly panic-stricken. Sherman says the Yankees are trying to clear some payroll space so they can sign a left-handed-hitting DH, mentioning Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Raul Ibanez as possibilities.

The problem, of course, is the $33 million still owed to Burnett. As you might guess, teams are not lining up to take that obligation off the Yankees' hands. Ken Rosenthal writes that the Pirates have had discussions with the Yankees:

The Pirates also have spoken with the Yankees about Burnett, though those conversations failed to progress and perhaps qualified only as due diligence, major-league sources said.

The Pirates have been linked to a number of free-agent starting pitchers this offseason, almost all of whom have rejected them even though in at least one case (Edwin Jackson), the Bucs offered the free agent more years than he eventually got.

All of this tells you how truly desperate the Yankees must be to dump Burnett. Damon, Matsui and Ibanez all had middling-to-bad seasons in 2011 and acquiring any of them would be tantamount to reconstituting the 2004 or 2005 All-Star team, rather than actually getting a hitter who could help them. Damon had the "best" season among the three, but he is 38 and his 2011 was just a bit above league average, a 110 OPS+.

Brian Cashman could call up his new BFF Theo Epstein and bring Alfonso Soriano back to the Yankees, but the Yankees already have a right-handed-hitting DH (Andruw Jones) and are looking for a lefty-hitting partner for him.

At MLB Trade Rumors, Tim Dierkes mentioned some possible fits for Burnett, including the already-mentioned Pirates and the White Sox. The White Sox, though, likely would not want to take on any more contract dollars; presumably, they'd be more than happy to ship the $44 million remaining on Adam Dunn's deal to the Bronx. This could work; it's possible that Dunn is, in fact, done, but on the other hand, he hit .260/.356/.536 with 38 HR and 103 RBI in 2010. If he could return to anything close to that level, he could be a beast in the lefty-hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium.

Again, the issue would be Dunn's contract; Cashman is trying to shed salary, not bring more on board. Taking on $11 million more than they already have in contract obligations wouldn't help the Yankees' luxury tax issue.

Another left-handed hitter whose team would probably love to dump his contract is Aubrey Huff, who regressed significantly in 2011 after his big 2010 for the Giants. He's owed $10 million for this year; San Francisco has a $10 million option ($2 million buyout) for 2013.

So the Giants could pay $12 million or $33 million. That probably makes this, as Grant Brisbee told me, "a pipe dream."

That's pretty much where Brian Cashman and the Yankees stand, pipe-dreaming that they can rid themselves of $33 million worth of A.J. Burnett. That's likely why they signed Russell Branyan; Branyan can hit (.833 lifetime OPS vs. RHP) and he's cheap.

So the answer to the question posed in the headline to this post is: probably nothing. But you can bet Brian Cashman won't be throwing $82 million around casually like this in the future.

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