The baseball hot stove was officially fired up on Sunday with the beginning of the free agent negotiating period.
According to numerous reports, the Yankees have already reached out to Cliff Lee’s agent to let him know an offer is forthcoming. Getting Lee’s signature on a contract has clearly been established as job one in the off season, so while Brian Cashman stays busy with that mission, we’ve decided to help him out with a blueprint for crafting the rest of the 2011 roster. Over the course of the next few days, we’ll present a series of trades, free agent acquisitions and roster adjustments that will position the Yankees for a successful run at number 28 in 2011.
Trade: AJ Burnett for Carlos Zambrano
The Yankees currently have a whole host of questions in their starting rotation. Signing Lee and having Andy Pettitte return would go along way toward answering many of them, but even if both occurred, that would still leave the enigmatic AJ Burnett in the fifth slot. Although he seems to be a pretty good teammate, the uncertainty surrounding his performance has become too great to tolerate. Even if they are able to build a strong quartet around him, the Yankees shouldn’t accept so much doubt every five days.
Wanting to trade Burnett and finding a willing partner, however, are two different things. In other words, the Yankees need to find another team with an equally high-priced enigma. The Cubs’ Carlos Zambrano seems to be exactly that man.
Since signing a five-year/$91.5 million extension in 2007, Big Z has been a major disappointment for the Cubs. Although his relative performance has remained above average, his behavior has been erratic and his commitment and conditioning frequently questioned. Those concerns culminated in a demotion to the bullpen and eventual suspension following a dugout tirade on June 25, 2010. Zambrano eventually returned to the team, and the rotation, after undergoing anger management, but you couldn’t blame the Cubs if they’ve had enough of Big Z.
AJ Burnett vs. Carlos Zambrano, Last Three-Year Comparison
Why the Trade Makes Sense for the Yankees
From the Yankees’ perspective, they’d not only rid themselves of having to constantly address Burnett’s bi-polar pitching personality, but they’d also eliminate the need to employ a personal catcher for the right hander. Although the Yankees have been successful despite Burnett’s reticence to throw to Posada, removing this potential rift from the clubhouse, especially during a time when Posada’s role will likely diminish, could be a plus.
In return, the Yankees would get a pitcher who is four years younger and marginally better, albeit in a much less competitive league and division. If the Yankees were able to keep Zambrano focused, he could have the potential to return to his All Star form. As an added bonus, Joe Girardi was a teammate of Big Z for two seasons, so he might be in a good position to get the most out of the volatile righty.
Why the Trade Makes Sense for the Cubs
Although the Cubs would be acquiring an older pitcher coming off a very bad season, Burnett has actually been more durable, even taking into account Zambrano’s demotion and suspension. Also, from a scout’s perspective, Burnett would probably out-rate Zambrano, and that might make him an attractive project for Mike Quade. Although Burnett’s “dominant stuff” may have lost its effectiveness after five seasons in the AL East, it could translate very well to the weak NL Central.
The new Cubs’ skipper has said all the right things about Zambrano, but the opportunity to start fresh without a significant vestige of the team’s troubled past might ultimately be the most compelling part of the proposed deal. Do the Cubs really want to risk another midseason blowup from the cantankerous Zambrano? If not, they might be more than willing to swap headaches with the Yankees.
Carlos Zambrano will make $17.9 million in 2011 and $18 million in 2012, while Burnett will earn $16.5 million each season. So, the Cubs would come out ahead by approximately $3 million over the next two years. In 2013, however, Zambrano’s contract contains a $19.3 million vesting option, while Burnett’s deal holds another guaranteed year at $16.5 million.
From the Cubs standpoint, they’d enjoy a short-term savings, but because Zambrano’s option isn’t likely to vest (top-2 in 2011 CY Young voting or top-4 in 2012 CY Young voting), they’d pay for that discount in the long-run. As a result, the Yankees would likely have to include a significant amount of cash in the deal contingent upon Zambrano’s option not being triggered. How much exactly would likely be determined by each team’s respective desire to make the deal, but the Yankees should not be averse to chipping in at least half of Burnett’s 2013 salary.
Contractual Obligations: Burnett vs. Zambrano
* Zambrano’s 2013 option vests if the he finishes in the top-2 in CY Young award voting in 2011 or the top-4 in CY Young award voting in 2012, and is healthy at the end of the 2012.
Source: Cot’s Baseball Contracts