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Transaction Analysis: Pirates Acquire A.J. Burnett

After what seemed like years of waiting, the Yankees and Pirates finally pulled the trigger on the A.J. Burnett deal. Whether the move makes sense for either team, it is a move that could help your fantasy team, and not just by increasing Burnett's fantasy value.

A.J. Burnett

It isn't often that leaving the Yankees increases your fantasy value, but Burnett was in an unusual situation. A decent pitcher with a bloated contract -- and coming off two straight years of ERAs north of 5.00 -- Burnett was in the mix for the fifth-starter's spot with Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia and not necessarily the front-runner. Even if he'd won the job out of camp, he would have been on such a short leash that he probably wouldn't have been worth a roster spot. While the Yankees will win more games than the Pirates this year, Burnett has a much better chance of netting his own wins with the Bucs.

Wins are hard to come by in Pittsburgh -- Kevin Correia's 12 last season are the most by a Buc in the last three years -- but something in the 9-13 range seems possible given Burnett's durability (four straight years of at least 180 IP) and the potential development of the Pirates' young offensive core. At the least, it should be better than yo-yoing from the rotation to the bullpen.

But wins aren't the reason to draft Burnett; instead it's the change of scenery and competition--and his 8.22 career K/9. Despite Burnett's bad ERAs, his SIERAs have been better at 4.37 and 3.89. It looks like there's a pretty good pitcher in Burnett, just trying to get out, and Pittsburgh may be the place to do it. His otherworldly 17% HR/FB rate in 2011 should regress a bit on its own (his career rate is 11.3%) and the PNC park should do its part to help. While Yankee Stadium boasts a 1.267 park factor for homers, PNC Park's is just 0.799. The park also reduces walks, which Burnett will appreciate.

So, his ERA and WHIP should go down, and his strikeouts ought to remain good (he racked up 173 last year) and may well improve with the chance to face the Astros and Cubs instead of the Red Sox and Blue Jays -- where does that leave us? A pitcher with an ERA in the mid-4.00s, perhaps lower, with wins in the low double-digits and about 170 strikeouts. That won't anchor a staff, by any means, but it's solid production. Burnett's penchant for variance means that he might be quite a bit worse, of course, but it also means he could be better. I mean, he got that monster contract in the first place for a reason, right?

Burnett's ADP is currently sitting at 240.92, with a 6% draft rate. Expect those numbers to go up as his ADP begins to reflect his new situation, but he could still bring a lot of value towards the end of the draft, especially as casual players write him off for all the bad press he got in New York. Don't let your league be one of the 94%.

The Burnett trade isn't good news for the rest of Pittsburgh's rotation, though, as one of Kevin Correia, Jeff Karstens, or Charlie Morton will probably open the season in the bullpen or the minor leagues. The silver lining to that cloud is that whoever loses his spot should be getting it back as soon as Erik Bedard gets hurt.

Freddy Garcia or Phil Hughes

The trade is good news for one of these two pitchers, and early indicators suggest Freddy Garcia is likely to be the beneficiary. He's not the pitcher he was 10 years ago, but a 4.12 FIP and a 2.13 K/BB rate mark him as pretty close to average, and an average-ish pitcher in line for Yankee wins can be useful as a streamer. A word of caution, though: with the 41.3 FB% he posted last year, a small change in his ability to keep the ball in the park could mean a big drop in his value. Expect the leash to be short on Garcia if Hughes is waiting in the bullpen, but there are a lot of worse options for the last couple rounds of the draft.

Phil Hughes may still have a chance to beat out Garcia for the fifth starter's job, and Ivan Nova could always fall on his face and let both in. The great first half Hughes had (and the prospect-promise he'd showed before that) will keep him from being written off for years to come, but Hughes has been flat-out horrible for the last year and a half. If the Yankees give him a chance, it might be wishful thinking, but it might be that they can see that his old magic has returned. If the Yanks sound confident in him at the end of Spring Training, Hughes might be worth a flier. If he makes it into the rotation as an injury or performance replacement, I'd stay away.

 



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