By Mark Madden
Beaver County Times
February 13, 2012
The Pirates need to get pitcher A.J. Burnett from the New York Yankees.
Keeping outfielder/first baseman Garrett Jones in the process seems a good idea. Jones is a mere platoon player, and the Yankees want him. If Jones leaves, though, it opens up a hole on a team already too reliant on patchwork.
But if you've got to deal Jones, do it. If you can substitute a mid-level prospect at penalty of picking up more of Burnett's salary, better yet. The main thing is to get Burnett.
Do it for the rotation. If Burnett and Erik Bedard pitch to their potential, the Pirates' starting pitching will be even deeper than last year when it was the team's strength.
Do it for the union. If the Pirates keep Jones and pay Burnett $6 million per while the Yankees pay him $10.5 million per, it could get the Pirates' payroll over $50 million. That might keep the Major League Baseball Players Association from asking where all that revenue-sharing cash goes.
Do it for the fans. Burnett isn't Christy Mathewson, but he's a proven name from a big-time club. He's a legit No. 1 starter, at least by Pirates standards. Burnett would create a buzz.
Do it because there aren't any other choices. Pitcher Edwin Jackson turned down a three-year, $30 million deal with the Pirates to take a one-year, $11 million contract with Washington. First baseman Derrek Lee declined arbitration with the Pirates. That would have earned him at least $8 million. Lee would rather retire than play in Pittsburgh. Pitcher Roy Oswalt wouldn't even engage the Pirates in discussion.
No one wants to play for the Pirates. Ergo, the Pirates must take hostages. Force the issue via trade.
Burnett is no Cy Young contender. He was 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA last season. To some degree, Burnett was victimized by the hitter's paradise that is the new Yankee Stadium and also by pitching in the ultra-competitive AL East. He's 35, but his fastball can still hit the mid-90s, his stuff can be filthy and he pitched 190.1 innings last campaign.
Would Burnett go in the tank once trapped in "baseball hell"? Could be. But many feel Burnett would prosper in a low-pressure, low-expectations environment. The NL Central may be the weakest division in baseball now that Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder have departed.
If the Pirates are convinced they've drafted and signed the right young pitchers, wouldn't Burnett be an ideal two-year stopgap? In theory, Burnett would eventually give way to Gerrit Cole. Perhaps the Pirates could profit by swapping Burnett to a contender at the 2013 trade deadline.
It would be wonderful - heck, shocking - if the Pirates made a move that clearly and immediately helped the team. It would peel a layer of stink off the never-ending con.
The Yankees' big interest is dumping Burnett, who no longer figures in their plans. Believe it or not, the Yankees would like to chop some payroll. They're sick of the luxury tax.
Given that - and given that no team besides the Pirates appears too interested in Burnett - the Pirates should get the best terms possible when acquiring Burnett.
But they must get Burnett. Opportunities to get a proper big-leaguer are few and far between for the Pirates.
Then again, does the name Matt Morris ring a bell?
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).