First Pitch: Buy Low, Sell High

In looking at A.J. Burnett’s trade value a few weeks ago, I pointed out that the remaining $33 M salary left him with a trade value of negative $17.6 M, based on his 1.5 WAR the last two years. That meant the Yankees needed to pick up $17.6 M just to give Burnett away. Today we saw that the Yankees picked up $20 M of Burnett’s salary, giving them a trade value of $2.4 M.

The Pirates gave up two prospects. The better of the two prospects was right handed reliever Diego Moreno. At this point you could grade Moreno as a grade C pitcher, and due to his age he carries a trade value of $1.5 M. Exicardo Cayones was also in the deal. You could call him a grade C hitter, although that might be a little generous. Due to his young age, he carries a trade value of $0.7 M. Combined the Pirates gave up $2.2 M in value, which seems like a fair exchange for Burnett.

So what about this exchange down the road? A lot of the talk on Burnett has focused on how he’ll improve due to this trade. There are a lot of theories to that improvement. Moving from the AL to the NL. Moving out of the AL East. Moving out of Yankee Stadium. Moving to the NL Central. His 2011 xFIP. There are a lot of theories suggesting Burnett could bounce back. Maybe not to the point he was at prior to the 2010 season, but better than he was in 2010 and 2011.

I saw this question/theory raised on a few occasions: what if Burnett bounces back to the point where the Pirates could flip him at the deadline for a better return? Such a move would obviously mean the Pirates weren’t contending. I’m not sure how the scenario would work where Burnett bounced back to his pre-2010 form, but the Pirates were obvious sellers. That would probably mean bad things for Pedro Alvarez, a few regressions in the rotation, and other disappointments. But let’s ignore that and ask ourselves: what kind of trade value would Burnett have if he bounced back to his 3.5 WAR in 2009?

With the Yankees picking up $20 M of Burnett’s remaining $33 M, Burnett is basically on a two year, $13 M deal with the Pirates. If he bounced back to a 3.5 WAR pitcher like he was in 2009, he’d have a trade value of $13.9 M on July 31st, 2012. Putting that in perspective, that’s a top 76-100 prospect, or a package of two grade B pitchers. Putting those rankings in Pirates terms, that’s a prospect like Robbie Grossman, or a package of guys like Kyle McPherson and Nick Kingham.

Burnett wasn’t exactly an ace in 2009. He had a 4.04 ERA, which was a bit on the lucky side based on his 4.23 xFIP. His main value came from pitching 207 innings. So it might not be totally out of the question to expect he could bounce back to that level. Even if he just jumps to a 2.5 WAR, he’d be worth one grade B pitching prospect. Of course if he remains a 1.5 WAR player, he’s got a trade value of $0.6 M, which means the Pirates would be looking at getting a Cayones-type prospect in return, assuming they didn’t pick up any salary.

Burnett’s deal could be a perfect example of a buy low, sell high move, as long as he bounces back. I think it’s also an example of an extreme over-payment. Under his normal $16.5 M salary, Burnett would only have positive trade value with a 3.5 WAR, and even then he’d only have a value of $1.6 M on July 31st. He would have needed to be a 5.0 WAR pitcher to provide value for his deal. The rate the Pirates are getting is more reasonable, but they’re going to need Burnett to bounce back if they eventually want a better return than the one they just gave to the Yankees.

Links and Notes

**The A.J. Burnett trade story (by Kristy Robinson)

**What Did the Pirates Give Up?

**What is Burnett’s impact on the rotation? (by Kevin Creagh)

**The deal is finally done (by Wilbur Miller)

**Trade history between the Pirates and Yankees (by John Dreker)

**Reactions to the trade around the web: Bucs Dugout, WHYGAVS, Rumbunter, Raise the Jolly Roger, North Side Notch, Three Rivers Burgh Blog, and a trade tree at 6-4-3 Putout (I love those).

**Burnett hasn’t officially been added to the 40-man roster. The commissioner has to sign off on the deal, and he has to pass a physical. Once that happens, a player would have to be removed to create a spot. For now, I’ve added Burnett’s salary to the 40-man payroll projection. The addition puts the Pirates just under $51 M.

**For those of you who have bought the Pirates Prospects 2012 Annual, if you’re wondering, Burnett will be in the book. If you haven’t bought it, go here to do so. The book will be released next week.

**Dan Szymborski of Baseball Think Factory released the 2012 Pirates ZiPS projections. A few interesting ones on there. The one that caught my eye: Pedro Alvarez: 24 HR, .770 OPS.

**The college baseball season started today. Victor Roache, the power hitting outfield prospect who is rated in the top ten by most outlets, went 1-for-4 with a single and a walk.

**And in a non-baseball link, but an interesting thing to watch: Solar tornadoes bigger than the size of Earth on the sun’s surface.

**Pitchers and catchers report today.

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Tim, didn’t you do something last year (maybe with fangraphs) that showed a pitchers balls in play and where they landed?  It would be interesting to see how many of Burnett’s long balls would have been kept inside the walls of PNC compared to Yankee Stadium.

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