Originally written on Pirates Prospects  |  Last updated 2/9/12

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Yankees discussing a A.J. Burnett trade. A big hold up with any Burnett trade is money, as the right hander is due $33 M total over the next two years, and is coming off two bad seasons with New York.

Yesterday there was some talk that the Pirates could be interested in Burnett, with the Yankees paying a bulk of his salary. Buster Olney speculated that a Garrett Jones for Burnett swap, with New York paying 90% of Burnett’s salary, might be appealing.

Tonight Olney reports that Jones is, in fact, the guy the Yankees want from the Pirates, but that the Pirates don’t want to move Jones. Olney added that the Yankees know they’ll have to eat a huge portion of Burnett’s salary, likely in the $25-27 M range.

To get an idea of the value of a Burnett deal, let’s take a look at his trade value:

A.J. Burnett

YEAR SALARY WAR VALUE 2012 $16.5 1.5 -$8.8 2013 $16.5 1.5 -$8.8 TOTAL $33.0 3.0 -$17.6

Explanation: Burnett has been a 1.5 WAR pitcher the last two years. That, plus his $16.5 M contract, makes him worth negative $8.8 M per year.

What He’s Worth: The Yankees would have to pick up $17.6 M in salary just to give Burnett away. Even then, the team that gets Burnett is getting no value on his 1.5 WAR. Burnett would be owed $7.7 M per year in that scenario. In order to get a grade C pitching prospect, the Yankees would have to pick up an additional $2-3 M, which takes Burnett down to $6 M a year.

So what about Garrett Jones?

Garrett Jones

YEAR SALARY WAR VALUE 2012 $2.3 1.0 $2.9 2013 $3.8 1.0 $1.4 2014 $5.0 1.0 $0.2 TOTAL $11.1 3.0 $4.5

Explanation: Jones was an 0.9 WAR player in 2011. He will likely see a bigger role in 2012, although I went conservative and just bumped him up to an even 1.0 WAR. His 2013 and 2014 salaries are arbitration estimates. Jones is eligible for arbitration in 2015, but it would provide negative value at a 1.0 WAR, so I didn’t include that.

What He’s Worth: Jones is worth $4.5 M over the remainder of his team control. This assumes he continues playing at the same rate as his 2011 season. If he improved even a slight amount to a 1.5 WAR player, his value would jump to $12-14 M, depending on whether you want to add that last arbitration year.

Jones for Burnett?

Value-wise, the Yankees would have to pick up $22.1 M just to match the value of Jones from his 2011 season. That would cost the Pirates $10.9 M over two years for Burnett. Of course if the Pirates value Jones higher than a 1.0 WAR player, then the deal wouldn’t make sense. The Yankees would basically have to pick up all of Burnett’s salary just to meet that price.

The Pirates seem set on going in to the year with Garrett Jones as their starting first baseman, with Casey McGehee platooning in the role. Trading Jones would seemingly leave McGehee as the first baseman, although I think Matt Hague could fill the platoon role against right handers. It’s also interesting that the Pirates will be working out Dmitri Young. At the present time it would make no sense to have Young. They’ve got Jones/McGehee in the majors, and Hague in AAA, plus they’ve got Nick Evans as a non-roster invitee.

The thing about all of this is that the Pirates seem to be in the driver’s seat. The Yankees are in a position where they need to clear Burnett’s salary to make room for Eric Chavez and a left handed DH bat. The Pirates seem to be the only team that would be willing to take Burnett, even if the Yankees are picking up all but $8-10 M of his salary. So the Pirates don’t really need to give up Jones and open a spot at first base. They could hold off and try to give up a lesser return, since the Yankees are short on options.

Personally I wouldn’t mind a Jones for Burnett swap, especially if the Yankees were eating $25 M. I’d like to finally see what Matt Hague could do, and I think Burnett has more upside than Jones. I don’t see Jones as a guy who will ever break out of the platoon role/power hitter off the bench situation he’s in now. Burnett, on the other hand, would have massive value to the Pirates if he somehow discovered his old form, especially with the Yankees paying most of his salary. And while I consider Matt Hague an average first baseman in the majors, the combo of Jones/McGehee doesn’t project as much better, and this finally gives the Pirates an opportunity to see if Hague is a long term solution.


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