April 23, 2014

MLB Trade Rumors: Would You Trade Travis Hafner for A.J. Burnett?

I love Hot Stove talk. Pitchers and catchers report in less than two weeks and it appears as if the Indians are still looking to improve their roster. With Asdrubal Cabrera signing his one-year deal on Friday avoiding arbitration, the Tribe has everyone under contract for the 2012 season….and that’s it.

It’s now the worst kept secret in town, but the Tribe literally has nobody signed past 2012. Of course, they control the rights to many of their young players as well as club option years for the likes of Ubaldo Jimenez, Travis Hafner, and the man formerly known as Fausto Carmona. Many people are viewing this is a bad thing. I say, good for them. Remember all of these years where we have been saddled with the noose that is the Hafner contract, the deal that is considered among the most untradeable on the game.

That contract is finally going to be off the books after 2012 with the Indians surely buying out the remaining option year. But is it as untradeable as we all think? Yes, of course it is. However, GM Chris Antonetti could shed Hafner for the equivalent of the pitching version of his deal – Yankees starter A.J. Burnett.

The Tribe as we know is not going to outslug their way past the loaded Detroit Tigers if they are going to supplant them atop the AL Central. They are going to have to do it with pitching and defense. With Carmona more than likely not returning for 2012 as he battles his Visa issues in the Dominican Republic, the Indians turned to former Minnesota right-hander Kevin Slowey as their best option at the back of the rotation. This was after they added veteran Derek Lowe to be an innings-eater in that fourth spot. Lowe is in the last year of his deal as well will be 39 on June 1st. There are kids like Jeanmar Gomez, Scott Barnes, and Zach McAllister as well as the man, the myth, the legend David Huff in the AAA pipeline, but none of these guys are power arms that the Indians covet. The two power guys they did have, Drew Pomeranz and Alex White, were both dealt for Jimenez.

This is where Burnett comes into the equation.

OK, I know he’s erratic. I know that he has been a failure in New York, but many players have gone to that big stage and just couldn’t handle the pressure. Of course the name Ed Whitson comes to mind, but more recently, Jose Contreras, Carl Pavano, and Javier Vazquez have let the Bronx eat them up. One thing about Burnett – the guy can bring it and can be dominating at times. Getting out of New York and into a smaller market where he doesn’t have to live up to the five year-$82.5 million deal could be just what the doctor ordered.

The Yankees have done pretty much every thing they could this offseason to essentially “recuit over” Burnett. They made a trade with Seattle for young starter Michael Pineda and signed veteran Hiroki Kuroda from the Dodgers. These two head into a rotation that already has C.C. Sabathia, 16-game winner Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, and Freddy Garcia. There is no longer a need or room for Burnett and the Yanks have seen enough of him. They would love to clear him out to find room for the left-handed hitting DH they are looking for to replace the retired Jorge Posada and round out their lineup.

This was never even on my radar screen to be a match, but  Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported yesterday that four teams are no interested in the enigma that is Burnett.  New York Post Yankee beat writer Joel Sherman followed up on Twitter, speculating that the Indians could be one of the three other teams bidding for Burnett’s services, along with the Royals, and the Pirates, who have been openly coveting Burnett and are said to be the closest to a deal.

Again, this is speculation on Sherman’s part, but it makes sense. The Yankees want to shed the two years and $33 million left on Burnett’s deal, and the Indians could finally dump Hafner while getting some salary relief to do so, while adding a veteran, power throwing starting pitcher who is under contract for the next two years. When healthy last season, Hafner looked great and could really take advantage of the short porch in right field of new Yankee Stadium. Burnett could use the next two years out of the glare of the New York media to just relax, pitch, and get himself back on the market in two years.

It doesn’t seem that far fetched does it?

The other aspect of this deal that interests me would be the fact that the Indians wouldn’t be saddled with having a “DH only” type player in that spot. The at-bats could be used to rest the likes of Grady Sizemore and Carlos Santana. They could mix and match in that spot all year, especially in terms of being so left-handed heavy.

Do I think this is something that is going to happen? I don’t. The Pirates seem to be pretty far along with their deal, but I for one would be on board for swapping Hafner’s bad deal for a chance to see the ressurection of Burnett in a Tribe uniform. Imagine renaissance seasons for Jimenez and Burnett with Justin Masterson at the top and Josh Tomlin and Lowe in the mix.

Sounds very enticing to me.

  • Boomhauertjs

    I wouldn’t be opposed, but I’d rather have that $13 million freed up to get a bat next offseason.

  • Anonymous

    if the Yankees pickup $19mil as reported, then it’s still $14mil for Burnett (over 2 years though).    basically a wash in salary w/ Hafner.

    AJ does fit the Tribe pitcher profile being an extreme groundball guy.  the fact he has some power in his arm is a +.   

    i think i would do this deal, but it’s definitely got risk on both sides.

  • Anonymous

    Why would the Yankees want Hafner when they are already eating a huge chunk of Burnetts salary just to dump him?  Maybe they are that desperate for a left handed bat though, who knows? Its hard for me to imagine the Yankees paying Burnett 20ish million dollars to go away, only to bring in a 13 million dollar DH who can only play 80-90 games a year.

  • Matt S

    HELL no.

    The Indians need offensive firepower, and trading Pronk is the last thing they need.

    Besides, where would Burnett fit in? #5, and send down Slowey? Send down Tomlin? Move Slowey to the bullpen?

    Burnett is old, and has always been a bit erratic. I’m not convinced he would even improve the rotation, and don’t kid yourself, Hafner is still one of our best offensive weapons. There’s a reason he was still hitting around the middle of the order last year. You can’t replace his production with more at-bats for Aaron Cunningham, Shelley Duncan and Lou Marson. That would be awful.

    And in any case, I don’t want Hafner in a Yankees uniform.

  • Anonymous

    Seems like we are counting on a lot of the guys to have breakout seasons this year after either mediocre seasons, or coming off injury.  We are also counting on the players that had career years last year to remain at these levels or continue to get better.  A lot of things need to fall into place this year to battle with Det.  It is Det though.  Excited for a real sport to start again while we suffer the gray-out of sports between the superbowl and opening day with march madness being a nice distraction in between.

  • Anonymous

    And BTW, Burnett is not erratic, he’s just not that good. Take away a 3-4 year stretch in Toronto/Florida where he was above average, and hes been quite mediocre. I dont want him, unless the Yankees are willing to take a Class A loogy in return and eat most of his salary. 

  • Max

    every time my wife gets mad at me for making my son play catch with his right arm tied behind his back, I show her AJ Burnett’s stats and annual salary. She the agrees that forcing him to be a lefty is an effective strategy for retirement savings

    (this is a joke, please don’t send child services to my house)

  • Harv 21

    If Rosenthal is right about Yanks picking up “$19-23M” of his remaining, it’s a no-brainer to me but: 1) are the Dolans guaranteeing any salaries past 2012? It looks they’ve deemed the “window” closed in October 2012;   2) after picking up that much of Burnett’s salary couldn’t the Yanks get more than an old, fragile DH physically incapable of even one full season?
     
    I think this would be a smart gamble but don’t see two willing participants.  

  • Anonymous

    yeah, we need things to go very well to battle Detroit (unless they add that 2nd wild card and then the battle might not be with Detroit)

    but, other than Masterson and Asdrubel, who had career years last year?  and those are young guys, even if they take a small step back we should be good with them (as long as they don’t take a Choo step back).

    i won’t complain if Santana, Kipnis, Chisenhall, Brantley have a breakout year.  and, we probably need one of them to take a leap forward instead of a step, but not all of them.   otherwise, just getting Choo back to normal along with a little better health from Grady and Hafner would do wonders for our offense (is getting 110 games out of each w/ 115 OPS+ asking too much?  i don’t know)

    I guess the bigger question is the pitching staff.  Masterson had a breakout year, Ubaldo was terrible (but we hope he’ll be good), Tomlin regressed in the 2nd half (can he take a small step forward), Lowe is old, and the SP5 spot has 4-5 guys vying to be the last man standing (and it’d be nice if whoever wins can outperform Lowe)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003138402367 John Q. Williams

    I would much rather have the $13 mil to spend in the next off-season….but will the Dolans spend it on 2 guys? 5 guys?  Or buy other peoples AA All Stars?  Meh

  • Boomhauertjs

    Burnett’s a righty…

  • Anonymous

     There are still players with options and arbitration eligible players under club control beyond this season. That “OMG nobody is under contract past 2012″ is deceiving. It just means, at the moment, that there are no guaranteed contracts on the books for 2013. Guaranteed being the key word here. I mean we could dump guys like Masterson, Cabrera and Choo if we wanted, but at reasonable costs why would we?

  • Anonymous

    Boom already corrected you, so I’ll just add this:

    My younger son throws right, writes right, everything right.  Except he can’t hit from the right side to save his life.   Put him on the left side and all of a sudden he’s a power hitter.    Always thought it was strange when I saw T:R B:L until now when I see that’s just how some kids develop.

  • Anonymous

    well, if we really wanted to play that game, then we could pay AJ the $14mil this season and have the Yankees pickup $2mil this year and the rest of his contract next year ($17mil).  If they are paying $19mil anyway, then they might like to defer the cost awhile.

  • Anonymous

    pretty sure they’d spend it trying to lock-up Choo and Asdrubel.  Let’s worry about our own before worrying about other people’s FAs.

  • Harv 21

    obviously, no one thinks there are no players under control in 2013. But having no significant salary obligations begs the questionof why this rare reality has occurred. It’s a legit question, not a panicky omg

  • typo

    The Indians will not spend 13 million on a bat next year (imho) no matter what they tell us. And even if they would, the bat likely won’t want to come here anyway. Id much rather spend the money via trade on a high upside guy.

  • Max

    man, im dumb

    but still, my larger point about left handed pitchers stands

  • Max

    I do everything righty (write, throw, golf) but I have always been left legged (punting, kickball)

    like you said, it’s just how things develop

  • Anonymous

    If both guys have above-average to career years in 2012, no way I would make this trade.  A good Pronk at DH is about as good as they come. 

    More realistically, however, ff both guys play like they did last year, I’m more on the fence, but still don’t think this makes sense.  A once-every-five-days (game days) average player in the place of a three-times-a-week average player?  Either way, we’d have to pay a guy far more than he’s worth.  I think I’d rather gamble that Pronk’s bat shows up and eat his contract for the last year.  It’s a dish we’ve been “enjoying” for so long, now, anyway, I’m getting accustomed to it.

    Wish I could get my chrystal ball back from the shop.   

  • Anonymous

    not even Asdrubel or Choo extension?   why not?

  • Anonymous

    I wonder if I have any left-handedness hiding somewhere.  Maybe that’s why I was always a terrible tennis/ping-pong player.

  • Harv 21

    Garry, isn’t this an apples/oranges comparison? The DH doing a decent or crappy job in his five at-bats impacts any given game less than the starter doing the same.
     
    Having said that, I was thrilled watching Haf regain the stroke for a month last season. His walk-off slam/primal scream was my favorite moment. People talk like he’s gone after this year but I wonder how people will react if we re-sign him for, like, $4m/year or something in 2013. He lives here and may want to stay.

  • Anonymous

    I would agree that not a lot of people had career years other than Nasty and AC, but the Bullpen Mafia was sick.  They kept us in a lot of games.  If they perform like they did last year, we can add some disiplined timely hitting and fielding, I think we are going to be ok.

    There is a lot of potential there if Grady, Choo, Hafner, Jiminez and Santana all do what they are capable of doing, but we will see.

  • Anonymous

     They tried to work out extensions for Choo and Cabrera, they offered two grey beards (Willingham and Beltran) 2 year deals. It is quite odd that there are no guaranteed contracts on the books for 13, but I dont think there is some conspiracy at work like some are implying/speculating. I think barring disaster 2013 is very much in play for this team. Of course if the team is bleeding money and in last place come July, all bets are off. We shall see. But for the time being I chalk it up to an anomaly instead of Dolan “closing the window” come October.

  • Anonymous

    That’s fair, and I’m sensitive to the apples/oranges nature of the comparison and the age-old nature of the debate; but as a guy that generally prefers apples to oranges, I don’t shy away from it. 

    I guess my thinking is this:  Pronk playing 3 to 5 times a week at least gives him the chance of making a positive impact in all of those games.  And by and large, Pronk’s positive impact is game-changing.  A pitcher – even an above-average one – on the bench doesn’t provide that, and if the pitcher flops on the one day he pitches, that’s 10 game days without an opportunity to provide any benefit to the team, whereas Pronk would at least have 6 to 7 game-changing opportunities in that same span, and probably more.  If all other factors are equal (contract, etc.), I think I like the apple that is Pronk to the orange that is Burnett. 

    And though it is a huge gamble, the prospect(donkey) of Hafner re-gaining his ’06/’07 form (I’m stifling the HGH thoughts) far outweighs any potential performance from Burnett.  

  • Anonymous

    yep in just 6 weeks!

  • Anonymous

    In your defense, if you look at the photo accompanying this post (yep, there was even a photo), AJ’s glove is technically on the right side, meaning that his pitching arm is the LEFT. 

    It’s a bad, bad defense, but even the Nazis at Nuremberg were entitled to a defense.  So you have that going for you.  Which is nice. 

    (And I didn’t even make a snarky comment about Michigan!  Woops.  Sorry.) 

  • Jaker

    I would be all for it if we could somehow sign Choo/Cabrera to longer contracts. And maybe deal some of the rotation/BP depth that we have for a REAL Bat in the Lineup. Then I would be on board.

  • Jaker

    I live in NJ, and I listen to the Michael Kay show all the time. Trust me, they don’t care about 13mil, cuz that’s their average starter pay. They really want to dump AJ, and I’d be glad to take him. He’s the one player in the MLB who could be seriously better with a change in scenery.

  • Anonymous

    if you can find a team willing to give up a “real” bat for a combination of Huff, Slowey, etc. then please forward the name of that team to Antonetti.

  • Harv 21

    kind of agree. But my issue is that Hafner can have 4 extra base hits over his 4 games/week, a very good week, and none of them impact the game. A starter’s one very good game always impacts that game and often wins it. But you knew I was going to respond that way so I’ll shut up now before this discussion becomes a cliche. 

  • Anonymous

     Between Hafners salary and the 20 million or so they would be paying Burnett to get lost, they would be effectively spending about 33 million dollars on 90 games of Travis Hafner and his .800 OPS. Thats insane even with their budget. This proposed trade makes no sense for the Yankees unless they are getting a haul of prospects as well. And we dont have anybody left that we can afford to part with. I think the Yankee beat writer who brought up Hafner and the Indians was just throwing something at the wall and hoping it stuck.

  • Anonymous

    ah, but they could opt-in on 2013 Hafner and get 160 games for $46mil.  that’s Yankee bargain shopping!

  • Anonymous

    just to complete the cliche:  and both have more relative value than the closer. 

  • Anonymous

    There you go! Re-reading the Tweet by Joel Sherman (who is quite belligerent with the shorthand) hes not suggesting that the Indians would deal Hafner for Burnett. Only that the Indians could free up some money for Burnett by trading Hafner somewhere else. The question is, who in their right mind would take Hafner without the Indians paying a huge chunk of his salary? Nobody. With all due respect to TD this proposed trade is rather insane! The Indians wont take Burnett unless the Yankees pay at least 2/3 of his salary and nobody is going to take Hafner unless the Indians pay about 3/4 or more of his salary. The numbers dont add up, at all.

  • DOC1188

    I wouldn’t.  Even though Hafner is a part time player he has posted a .800+ OPS the past 3 years.  He would still help the offense.  

  • kjn

    This doesn’t make any sense from the Yanks POV. So you’re eating salary to get rid of an albatross and in return you take on a guy with a big salary?

    Even with that big payroll, they’re not that wasteful. If they want a bat, they’d have just bought one, a real one, in FA. If they want to get rid of Burnett and save some cash, they’ll trade him for some minor league prospects or some worthless players to be named later.

    Maybe I’m missing something, but doing those two together makes no sense.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    The only true Free Agents after this season are Lowe, Kotchman, “Fausto”, and Grady.

    https://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=tKIJtE0J83GL-6XiTzecEBw&output=html 

    I think the Indians’ structure is brilliant (if perhaps a bit lucky). They can choose what to do with every player on the roster, particularly depending on what happens this year. If it’s going great, they keep it all together. If it’s good, they have the option to change whatever is needed. They also get another year or so to see if any young MiLB guys step up (particularly at SP) or to see if a big 1B bat shows up on the market (trade or FA) or if LaPorta miraculously turns it around. And if they do really well, they might have a bit more money to spend on a big bat next year as well and see what they can do and how long they can sustain it.

  • Steve

     This isn’t a rare reality. 3 or 4 teams around the league are set up similarly.

  • Anonymous

    don’t expect money to spend on a big bat.   unless you are counting Asdrubel or Choo as that big bat.  I think we might be able to keep 2/3 of Choo/Asdrubel/Masterson.   I want to keep Masterson for sure. 

    we have Choo&Asdrubel through ’13.  Masterson through ’14.