The Pirates Have Options To Choose From

We’ve heard a lot of rumors surrounding A.J. Burnett the last few days, and the latest rumors to come out suggest that the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Yankees are debating over how much money each team should pick up. The latest has the Pirates agreeing to pick up $10 M, with the Yankees wanting the Pirates to pick up closer to half of the $33 M owed to Burnett. There’s also been talk that the Pirates are looking at other pitchers on the market.

The Pirates are in a good position here. There’s several teams looking to unload pitchers with high salaries, and the Pirates are one of the few teams with room to take on salary. That doesn’t help the Yankees in their attempt to get the Pirates to pay more for Burnett, since the Pirates could turn to someone like John Lannan or Joe Blanton if Burnett’s price was too high. Here is a rundown of each high priced player who is on the block, what they are owed, and what the Pirates would be getting with each player.

A.J. Burnett – 2 years / $33 M

Burnett seems to be the top target for the Pirates. The Yankees owe him $33 M over the next two years, and would have to pick up most of that salary for a deal to work. Currently the teams are haggling over that amount, with the Pirates agreeing to pick up $10 M, and the Yankees wanting closer to half.

Burnett has struggle the last two years, with an ERA over 5.00. He has racked up a lot of innings, and his secondary numbers are strong. The 35 year old right hander is coming off a year where he pitched 190.1 innings, with an 8.2 K/9, a 3.9 BB/9, and a 1.5 HR/9 ratio. His xFIP was 3.86, which is over a run lower than his actual ERA of 5.15.

In all of the talk about Burnett, there hasn’t been much discussion about other teams being involved in the bidding. The Yankees seem desperate to unload Burnett, and the Pirates seem like the only team interested in taking him on. The fact that there are other pitchers on the market only works in the Pirates’ favor.

John Lannan – 1 year / $5 M and Arb Eligible in 2013

I talked about Lannan last week after Edwin Jackson signed with Washington. He’d be a good fit for PNC Park, due to being a left handed pitcher with extreme ground ball ratios. The Nationals are trying to unload his salary after the off-season additions of Jackson and Gio Gonzalez.

One issue with Lannan is that his advanced metrics are usually lower than his actual ERA. He finished the 2011 season with a 3.70 ERA in 184.2 innings, although his xFIP was 4.24. That was the third time in four years that he not only finished a season with an ERA below his xFIP, but where he also pitched over 180 innings and had an ERA below 4.00.

Lannan doesn’t strike out a lot of batters. His 5.17 K/9 ratio in 2011 was the second highest of his career. He had a 3.7 BB/9 ratio, which doesn’t go well with the low strikeout totals. Burnett is a guy who could dominate a game with a lot of strikeouts, even though he hasn’t exactly dominated the last few years. Lannan relies more on his defense. Both are innings eaters. The advanced metrics point to Burnett being the best bet for a sub-4.00 ERA, but I think it’s significant that Lannan has proved the advanced metrics wrong three out of the last four years.

Joe Blanton – 1 year / $8.5 M

The Phillies are trying to avoid paying luxury tax, and they’re trying to unload Joe Blanton’s $8.5 M to do so. Blanton missed most of the season last year with right elbow inflammation, so it will be hard for the Phillies to make a deal. Jayson Stark mentions that the Pirates have shown interest in the 31 year old right hander.

Blanton didn’t put up the best numbers in 2010 when he pitched 175.2 innings with a 4.82 ERA. He strikes out a decent amount of batters, but no where near Burnett’s range. His xFIP has been much lower than his ERA the last two years, including a 3.15 xFIP vs a 5.01 ERA in 2011, and a 3.87 xFIP vs a 4.82 xFIP in 2010.

Blanton wouldn’t be an answer for the Pirates. He’d be a good backup plan to add to the pitching staff, but more as a luxury than a need. If he came cheap — something in the $2-3 M range — he would be a good backup for the rotation, able to step in if anyone went down with an injury (or when, if we’re talking about Erik Bedard).

  • I would trade for AJ “and” Blanton. It is not my money and it would upgrade the rotation big time. Let them pitch in the spring to determine who goes to the pen out of the current starters.

  • Of the three, I would go after Lannan.  He is another version of Paul Maholm at less costs, at least for this year.  Unfortunately, the cost won’t be cheap.

    First, the Nationals do not have to or need to dump salary.  They were in the market for Prince Fielder at something around $20M/season.  Lannan’s $5M isn’t an issue.

    Second, although the Nationals have an abundance of starting pitchers, this isn’t a reason that they must trade Lannan.  Worst case, Lannan can be optioned to the minors and which case, I believe they are not on the hook for his entire MLB salary.  Again, the Nationals don’t need salary relief.  They have plenty on money to spare.

    Finally, the Nationals have specific needs, meaning they aren’t giving up Lannan for just anyone.  They need a center fielder and lead off hitter, preferably the same person and one who can play in the majors now.  They aren’t giving him for one or two mid-range prosepects.

    • Agree, Lannan would be my choice.  If they aren’t willing to just give him away though, I’d wait until the end of spring training.  Another ship will be sailing by then, maybe someone better.

      • Not sure if you mean that the Nationals will be willing to give him away as the season starts.  As I said, they don’t have to because Lannan still has one option and can be sent down.  Given Wang’s injury history and the history of that rotation, Lannan is a good insurance policy to have.

        If that isn’t what you meant, I apologize for missing your point.

        There is another option out there too, Ross Detwiler.  He is out of options and can’t be sent down.  He’s had a less than stellar career but has some ability.  He was hitting 94MPH at the end of the year, last year.  The Nationals like his potential better than they like Lannan in general.  They also feel Detwiler is a better fit for the pen than Lannan.  They would however, like to move Detwiler into the rotation at some point.

        Depending on the cost, I would rather see the Pirates take a higher risk shot on getting Detwiler than Lannan.

  • i asked my friend this question. “If i told you three years ago the pirates could have Bedard and Burnett in their starting rotation what would you say?”   His response was put down the controller to the Xbox.  I say give him a chance to see what he can do.

  • I think AJ would be a nice p/u.  Sure, he hasnt had the best of times in NY but I really believe that just pitching outside of the big apple would really help him.  Throw in PNC park and a move to the NL and I could see him be a nice upgrade over Kevin C., Lincoln, or anyone not named Cole or Tallion this year.  Then, if he starts off like I think he would, he could actually maybe bring a decent return at the deadline if someone steps up in AAA.  Maybe that low level, young SS we seem to be needing.  I like a rotation of AJ, Bedard, Morton, McDonald, and Karstens.  I think it has the potential of being superior to what we had last season for sure.

  • I agree and the Rays are probably going to want prospects also.

  • Don’t want Blanton or Burnett they are clearly on the downside of their careers and we all have seen enough of those types in Pittsburgh the past 19 years. Lannon wouldn’t be to bad if I had to take one of the top three guys but the Pirates don’t play good enough D to have him pitch every 5th day for them. If Niemann was to come available if i was Neil I would the first to call the Rays..

    Sounds like the Pirates are trying to make a deal some they can say they increased their payroll like they said they would. Doesn’t matter that they would be bring in a player that doesn’t help them and might even cost them a few games.

    Until the Pirates step up to the plate and sign a Top notch player in his prime for market value they will always be considered the Pirates(Losers) and NO player will want to come to Pittsburgh to play. if you don’t agree, ask yourself this. How many players would rather retire then play for the team? The Pirates already have two in the past 19 seasons, Derek Lee and Darren Lewis.  

    • dude, if they wanted to just increase the payroll they would have kept doumit and maholm.


    • I would think Burnett is a clear upgrade to Correia and maybe Karstens. I only see a handful of teams handing out market value contracts to guys in their prime. Most teams don’t play in those markets. the 1s that do rarely are happy with those contracts towards the end and are begging teams to take them at .25 on the dollar. I.E. burnett Blanton Soriano Zambrano that list goes on and on and on.
      Kendall was signed to 1 of these great market value deals and it took 2 years after hes gone just to get out from under that. Can you believe that bum was getting 10 mill per?
      Pirate fans need to look at the Tampa Bay Rays as the model. Not the Brewers or Cincy or any of the big market teams. A big money mistake kills franchises like the Pirates fore multiple seasons not just the current 1.
      As far as FA not wanting to come here, why would a rich 20 something want to come here. The weathers crappy, the people are old, the nightlife is blah, and the most famous people here are Steeler players and Joe Dinardo. And I love it here but Im neither 20 nor rich.

  • Pirates are justifiable in going after Burnett first. He is good regardless of the last two seasons. He had a lot of bad luck and would improve in a move to the NL, and PNC Park would be good for him. His inning eating ability could teach the other starters a thing or two.

    I saw Jeff Niemann’s name bandied about on twitter and I would jump at a chance to get him too. He’s a 6 foot 9 monster who would thrive in the NL. Definitely would take Burnett & Niemann ahead of Lannan. I hope they don’t take Lannan, and I wouldn’t touch Blanton with a ten foot pole. I’d sooner have Correia, Lincoln or Locke as the 5th man than either of those two.

    • I thought about including Niemann, but he doesn’t fit with this group. Niemann doesn’t have a big contract. He’s just being mentioned as a guy the Rays could move because they’re loaded with young pitchers and don’t need him.

    • another potential plus for the Pirates, Burnett has shown a propensity for pitching better when there is less focus/stress on him personally