Barring the unforeseen, A.J. Burnett's time in pinstripes is up.
The Yankees and Pirates, after more than a week of haggling, finally agreed in principle on Friday to a deal that would send the troubled righthander to Pittsburgh, sources said. The Pirates agreed to pay $13 million of the remaining $33 million on Burnett's contract and the Yankees received two fringe minor-leaguers, righthander Diego Moreno, 25, and outfielder Exicardo Cayones, 20, both of whom are seen by scouts as long shots to reach the majors.
Because of the money involved, the trade first needs the approval of MLB and the deal should soon be in the hands of commissioner Bud Selig, who is expected to give approval. Once Burnett passes his physical Sunday, the trade becomes official and the Yankees will sign a designated hitter, likely Raul Ibanez.
Ibanez has been the team's top choice to fill the role and indications are the 39-year-old, who had a down year in 2011 with the Phillies but still managed to hit 20 homers and drive in 84 runs, wants to play in New York. If an agreement with Ibanez can't be worked out, Johnny Damon remains a possibility, though the former Yankees outfielder would need to drop his price from the nearly $3 million he's seeking.
Additionally, the Burnett trade increases the likelihood of the Yankees re-signing Eric Chavez as a backup infielder.
Since trading for Michael Pineda last month, the Yankees had essentially seven starts for five rotation spots, though in reality, the competition would have been Burnett, Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia battling for No. 5. CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Huroki Kuroda and Pineda were considered shoo-ins for the first four spots. Now, as pitchers and catchers report Sunday, it appears to be a two-way competition for the final spot between Garcia and Hughes.
The trade of Burnett ends a tumultuous three years in the Bronx for the 35-year-old, whose inconsistency made him a consistent target of Yankees fans' wrath. After going 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA in the first year of the five-year, $82.5-million deal he signed before the 2009 season, Burnett went 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA in 2010, then 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA last season. The criticism of the righthander, who earned respect inside the clubhouse and outside it by never dodging the press even after his worst outings, became so severe last season that general manager Brian Cashman gave an impassioned defense of the pitcher and in doing so uttered one of his most memorable phrases.
"If you smoke the objective pipe," Cashman said on the field before a game Aug. 12 at the Stadium, "I think the coverage on him will be a little bit more accurate."
Cashman and manager Joe Girardi were Burnett's staunchest defenders publicly and Burnett did pitch better in September. He then, to the surprise of many, helped extend the Yankees' season by allowing one run in 5 2/3 innings in a 10-1 victory against the Tigers in the ALDS, a victory that forced a fifth game at the Stadium. It was reminiscent of what ended up being Burnett's biggest performance in a Yankees uniform: Oct. 29, 2009 at the Stadium. Burnett took the mound that night and, with the Yankees trailing one game to none in the World Series, was brilliant, allowing one run and four hits in seven innings in a 3-1 victory.
Burnett's next start, in Game 5 with his team in position to clinch the title, was the polar opposite as he was shelled for six runs in two innings in an 8-6 loss. The dichotomous Series starts fairly summarized the veteran's time in New York, if not his career.
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