MLB Commissioner Bud Selig has made it official. Pitcher A.J. Burnett will wear a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform. The Bucs acquired the 35-year old righthander from the New York Yankees in exchange for two minor leaguers, reliever Diego Moreno and outfielder Exicardo Cayones.
The Yankees deal Burnett with two years remaining on a five-year contract he signed prior to the 2009 season. While Burnett was a key contributor to the Yankees 2009 World Series championship team, he has been disappointing in both 2010 and 2011 with ERAs over 5.00. Burnett became expendable after the Yankees acquired Michael Pineda from the Seattle Mariners and signed free agent Hiroki Kuroda. For their part, the Pirates will pay $20 million of the $33 million remaining on Burnett’s contract for 2012 and 2013.
Despite Burnett’s recent struggles, I think he will pitch better in Pittsburgh. First, Burnett reunites with veteran catcher Rod Barajas with whom he worked well when they were with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2008 when Burnett had his best season winning a career high 18 games and leading the AL in strikeouts with 231. The low key Barajas should be able to work with the high octane Burnett far better than the likes of Jorge Posada and Russell Martin did in New York.
What will also help is PNC Park. Burnett is a fly ball pitcher and in his three seasons with the Yankees, he surrendered 25, 25 and a career high 31 homeruns last season in the Bronx. Prior to joining the Yankees, Burnett only gave up more than 20 homeruns in a season twice in a career that began in 1998. PNC Park will hold a lot more fly balls than Yankee Stadium and its short right field porch.
Burnett joins a starting rotation which includes Kevin Correia, Jeff Karstens, Erik Bedard, James McDonald as well as Charlie Morton who is recovering from hip surgery. The Pirates are hoping to have their first winning season since 1992. If the Pirates have yet another lacklustre season they might very well unload Burnett onto another contender during the stretch run. But I have a funny feeling that Burnett and the Bucs are going to be a perfect fit.
As for the Yankees, with $13 million now at their disposal, they will likely re-sign veteran third baseman Eric Chavez as well as free agent Raul Ibanez who has played with the Philadelphia Phillies for the past three seasons. The Yankees are looking to Ibanez to be their primary DH in 2012.