What is A.J. Burnett’s Trade Value?

The Pittsburgh Pirates keep getting connected to A.J. Burnett. Earlier today we heard from Jim Bowden that the Pirates and Phillies continued to discuss Burnett, and that the discussion revolved around how much salary the Phillies would pick up, and players to go the other way.

Last night I took a look at the trade values in this seller’s market, determining that teams will probably have to pay $9.5 M per win on the trade market. Using that figure, we can take a look at Burnett’s trade value, and determine just how much the Phillies should be giving up, and what type of prospects they can expect from the Pirates.

NOTE: The purpose here isn’t to suggest the Pirates are offering this amount for Burnett.  The purpose is to see the value of Burnett, using projected values based on the current market (calculated as [(WAR*$9.5 M) – Salary]) and prospect trade values. We use our updated values for top 100 prospects, and Victor Wang’s research on prospect values for non-top 100 prospects.

A big question with Burnett’s value is whether the Phillies have to pay his $7.5 M signing bonus, or whether that goes with him to another team. The Phillies deferred the bonus, with $1 M being paid in December, and $6.5 M being paid next year. I’m thinking that this goes along with the contract, just like any performance bonuses.

According to Cot’s, Burnett is being paid $7.5 M this year. The Pirates would pay $2.44 M of that if he was traded on July 31st. He will make $500,000 each for 24 and 27 games started, and $750,000 for 30 games started. If he starts 32 games, his player option next year increases to $12.75 M, and the same performance bonuses for 24, 27, and 30 games started apply. That means he could earn as much as $14.5 M next year if he makes 32 starts this season and 30 starts next season. He’s currently at 22 starts this year.

The total cost for the Pirates would be $18.69 M over the next 14 months, or $26.19 M if you include the signing bonus, which I think would be included.

Burnett hasn’t been pitching like he did in previous years. Right now he has a 1.1 WAR in two-thirds of the season. I projected that going forward, giving him a 1.7 WAR this year (which is represented as 1.7 in the chart below, but the Pirates would only get a third of that production). I bumped it up next year to a 2.0 WAR.

Here is a look at how it all adds up.

Year Salary WAR Value









Signing Bonus








With his current salary and production, Burnett isn’t worth anything. The Phillies would have to pick up some of his salary just to deal him for nothing, and this is at the super high rate of $9.5 M per win.

There is some value to be had next year, even if he does make 30 starts and $14.5 M. However, the signing bonus would negate that value. You’d have to hope that his current struggle is just a down year due to injury, and not a 37-year-old who is starting a rapid decline.

If the Phillies paid the signing bonus, then Burnett would be worth something. He’d be worth $5.8 M, which is the price of a Grade B hitting prospect, or two Grade C pitching prospects. The hitting prospect would be the quality of someone like Harold Ramirez, while the Grade C pitchers would be guys in the lower levels, rated in the 11-30 range. And of course, the more the Phillies pick up, the more they would expect to get back in prospects.

So what we’re looking at here is zero value for Burnett with his entire contract, or a small return if the Phillies take his signing bonus. You also have to consider the fact that the Pirates would still be paying him up to $18.69 M over the next 14 months, plus 1-2 prospects, even if the Phillies did pick up his signing bonus. Considering Burnett isn’t much of an upgrade over what the Pirates have at the back of their rotation, that combined price wouldn’t really make sense for the Pirates.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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Not real huge on bringing AJ back, but he’s an upgrade over Volquez, Cumpton, and Locke IMO. Plus, Worley’s peripherals indicate he’s due for regression


Tim, how much of a Russell Martin effect could we expect on AJ? Is it possible that the Pirates are factoring in improved performance due to Martin’s defense and pitch framing, therefore more value than on the surface?


Wait, I have a question – we didn’t want AJB for about $14 mil (qualifying offer) and we had so little interest in him that we didn’t even make a qualifying offer to get a compensation pick, and we didn’t really negotiate with him when he was a free agent, but now that he will cost more than $14 mil and he’s a year older we want him because we would have to give up prospects to get him and we know he has a hernia? And this makes sense how?


Is it possible that this deal is more of a move to pad out the rotation for next year? I’m not really sure they’ll pursue Volquez when he hits free agency.

That would leave them with Cole, Morton, Locke, Cumpton, Worley. Not exactly top heavy, but not terrible either. Granted you’d also have Kingham and Glasnow in the wings as well, with Taillion probably heading to AAA when he returns from TJ surgery.

They might think Burnett had something left in the tank if he keeps coming up like this. If that’s the case, I wouldn’t mind it.

They clearly are interested in bringing him back though if these reports have any merit to them.


When you look at thev cost of AJ, suddenly the cost of Price & Lester seem sane in comparison.

This could be Neal’s Matt Morris Moment.


That’s a pretty bold statement considering that the consensus early in the season was that Neal dropped the ball on bringing him back. They’ve been pretty great at evaluating pitchers in the past few years, and I’d assume they see something they like there. I seriously doubt they’ll make the move unless Philly eats a huge chunk of the salary. Even if they don’t, calling Burnett a Matt Morris type is a bit of a stretch don’t you think?


Overpriced, has a hernia, just threw 131 pitches at 38… there’s a lot to question. Let’s not forget that 8 months ago things were quite different. The cost of a QO was $14.1 mill and no players/prospects. The rotation had a gaping hole. The question was where the Bucs would find a pitcher of equal status.

Fast forward and we’re looking at adding a pitcher that by most metrics isn’t at best only as good as what we have at the back end of the rotation, will likely cost more (salary + players given to acquire) and, as noted above, has some major concerns health/age/wear-and-tear-wise.

Chris Cline

Was sad to see Burnett go this off season but I wouldn’t pay what Philly did, although I would have made a qualifying offer to get the draft pick. I would rather see the Pirates go for a more bang for your buck deal. I predicted the Sandy pickup a few years ago when there was not much mention of his name if any connected to the Buds. I would love to make a trade for a lesser name but with similar if not better numbers respectively. I know the Cubs and Theo Epstein made their farm system very alive after trading off arguably their best pitchers, but I would try to get them to part with the one they got last year at the deadline in Jake Arrieta. He was 5-2 with a 2.12 era and 93k in 85 innings on a poor club. He would be under club control and only makes 540k a year. Another name that could help us on a older team is the young 6th round pick pitcher for the Mets, Jacob DeGrom. He is still very young, but the talent and confidence are there, and he is a very good arm that would help us for years to come on a budget. Would rather invest in younger arms to keep the cycle going and if you offered prospects and money we could get a smarter deal like this done, instead of beating a DEAD horse(or a really old one)


Saw where carp is requesting a trade…fwiw


How does the phillies GM still have a job? Is there a single contract he has done since their World Series that isn’t horrible?


Whoa, Ruben Amaro Jr. receives more than enough accolades and credit, he became GM after, the 2008 World Series.

Scott Kliesen

One would think that’s important, but since the Phillies hit the lottery with their new local TV deal, the point is moot.


It makes no sense for ANY team to pick up AJ unless the Phillies are willing to pay in full that horrendous signing bonus that stills hangs. The Phils are/were insane!


These are always really interesting. Although, the fact that the only way the Phillies could get that return is if they pick up a ton of money AND have Burnett valued at 9.5MM per win is a heck of an indictment on his production (and their remarkable ability to piss money away).

In reality, the Pirates could get a 2.0 WAR pitcher for 2015 in free agency for far less than Burnett’s salary….signing bonus or not. And that’s without relinquishing a prospect.

Can’t see a rational reason to make this move.

Scott Kliesen

Is Burnett better than Volquez? Maybe, maybe not. I’m not a big fan of this move. Rather give up a prospect or two for Lester as he gives Pirates a legit shot at a pennant and maybe even a WS title.


So it appears that everything hinges around how much the Phillies will pick up?

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