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.
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.