This rumor just won’t go away, and there isn’t much else news to report from Flushing, so we may as well mull it over.
The theory goes like this: the Yankees are looking for a righthanded power bat for a corner outfield spot / DH. Why? Because everyone seems to have forgotten that Andruw Jones was re-signed earlier this winter. Additionally, the Yankees are looking to unload A.J. Burnett, who has been — put lightly — a disappointment. Further, the Yankees suddenly have a surplus of pitching, after signing Hiroki Kuroda and acquiring Michael Pineda. Burnett is excess baggage they are motivated to move for a power bat.
From the Mets’ perspective, Bay has also been a disappointment, and he’s an expensive contract to bear for a business going bankrupt. Though they’re not exactly flush with outfielders, the Mets are desperate to rid themselves of any and every multi-year, multi-million dollar contract. The immediate future is looking bleak, and even if Jason Bay returns to his monster form, it’s unlikely to make much difference in the Mets’ fortunes. Additionally, the Mets have very little depth behind their projected 5-man starting rotation — and a few of those projected starters have question marks. Getting another MLB starter is a distinct need, and there are worse options than Burnett — who might benefit from a return to the National League.
Now the reality: does it make sense for the clubs to do such a deal? It would seem to, considering the above. But let’s look specifically at the proposal from the Mets’ point of view: would the Mets be better off with A.J. Burnett than Jason Bay?
It pains me to say it, but, probably. From a pure entertainment standpoint, I much prefer to watch and root for Jason Bay — even though I believe he’ll continue to decline and play at level that is completely incongruent with his salary. In contrast, A.J. Burnett turns me off. Sure, his electric stuff can be exciting to watch once out of every dozen starts, but there’s something about his attitude and inconsistency that rubs me the wrong way. However, when I look at this from purely an objective POV, it makes sense for the Mets to do such a deal.
Financially speaking, the deal is more or less a wash. Burnett is owed $33M through the end of 2013, while Bay is guaranteed $35M ($16M for ’12 and ’13 plus a $3M buyout for ’14). Even though the Mets don’t have much depth nor big-time prospects to step into Bay’s spot, there are still a few affordable free agent options available and the Mets could push someone like Juan Lagares or Kirk Nieuwenhuis to the bigs for the time being. Bottom line is this: finding a stopgap corner outfielder is rarely a difficult challenge — particularly in comparison to finding a starting pitcher.
Which brings us to the second part of this proposal: obtaining A.J. Burnett. As already mentioned, the Mets have little depth behind their starting five, which is headed by a fragile Johan Santana. Even if Santana is healthy, what are the chances that he and all four of the others — R.A. Dickey, Jonathon Niese, Mike Pelfrey, and Dillon Gee — all remain healthy throughout the season as well? Do you know how rare it is for 5 MLB starters to make 32+ starts in one year? At some point, someone will break down — even if briefly — and the next-best option the Mets have are questionable entities such as Chris Schwinden, Josh Stinson, Miguel Batista, and Dylan Owen (we are assuming that the Mets do the prudent thing and allow Zack Wheeler, Jeurys Familia, and Matt Harvey spend a full year in the minors to continue developing).
But there is another factor at play here, and that is tradeability and trade value. Jason Bay will have to make a complete transformation from what he’s done over the past two years to become a tradeable asset. Bay would have to return to being the slugger he was in Boston for other teams to consider giving up prospects for him and/or assuming some or all of his contract. That’s a tall order, and though anything is possible, such a turnaround would seem to be improbable.
On the other hand, A.J. Burnett doesn’t necessarily have to return to being a lights-out 18-game winner to become a trading chip. All he has to do is continue missing bats at his usual 8-9 K/9 rate, get a little lucky, and have a few of those eye-popping outings he normally sprinkles in a typical year. When A.J. Burnett is “on”, opposing scouts drool over his potential, and teams imagine him as a legit postseason starter. If Burnett can be “on” just enough times in the first three months of the season, a few contending teams looking for arms could convince themselves he’s “figured it out” and take a chance on him at the deadline. Maybe the Mets won’t get a boatload of prospects in return, but they might have a chance to rid themselves of all or most of Burnett’s (and previously Bay’s) contract — which is the primary goal anyway.
So that’s my argument: Burnett has a better chance to be trade bait next July than Bay, partially because it’ll be easier for Burnett to appear valuable and partially because starting pitching is generally in more demand than corner outfielders. Ergo, if the Mets can trade Bay for Burnett, they should do it.
What say you? Do you agree or disagree, and why? Answer in the comments.
About the Author
Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers.