Just who did the Yankees get for Burnett?
The deal is now official and A.J. Burnett is a Pirate. I think this was a good deal for the Pirates, a flier worth taking. Rather than get into that into too much detail, I suggest you read my colleague Matthew Leach’s take on it. He’s smarter than I am anyway.
One of the things that does make it a positive is that the Pirates didn’t give up too much from their ever-improving farm system to get him. Not that long ago, of course, any trade that sent minor leaguers away from Pittsburgh hurt. But there’s so much more depth now. Even if the Pirates don’t have the top system in baseball, it’s come a long way. I noticed it particularly when I was constructing their Top 20 prospects list. It used to be difficult to find 20 guys worthy of being listed on such a rankings. Now there are leftovers who could be legitimate prospects in the future.
When you have some depth, you can trade a couple of pieces away and not have it derail efforts to build a system up. In the past, a player like Diego Moreno, the pitcher going to the Yankees in the Burnett deal, may have been protected on the 40-man roster. But not this past offseason.
The 25-year-old Moreno, signed back in 2006 for $6,000 out of Venezuela, hasn’t exactly moved quickly, with just a smattering of games above A ball. And yes, he had some disciplinary problems earlier. But he does have arm strength that’s allowed him to strike out 9.8 per nine batters. He’s also walked only 2.3 per nine and a scout I spoke with said he’s generally a strike-thrower. When he first signed, he was throwing about 86-88 mph. Today, he’ll touch 98 mph and couples it with a wipe-out slider that breaks bats. He’s started and relieved, with most thinking that his plus two-pitch mix is ideal for bullpen work. He still needs to show he can get hitters out at higher levels, but perhaps his strong showing in the Venezuelan Winter League this offseason will help.
The Pirates spent much more to sign the second player in the deal, outfielder Exicardo Cayones. Both Cayones and Moreno were signed by Latin American scouting director Rene Gayo and scouting supervisor Rodolfo Petit in Venezuela. The Pirates gave Cayones $400,000 in 2008, the most they had paid any player from Venezuela (It had been noted it was the largest payout given to any international amateur player by the Pirates and that was true, at least until they gave Mexican RHP Luis Heredia $2.6 million in 2010.
Cayones is still just 20, so there’s time for him to tap into his solid tools. He’s a graceful player who still needs to develop and mature physically. He’s received comps to Carlos Beltran, both in terms of his actions and temperament. For him to reach his potential, though, he’ll have to show a little more intensity, a little more sense of urgency in his game. He’s spent two summers in the Gulf Coast League and will have to show soon an ability to move up and face the challenge of a more advanced league.
So while the Yankees largely made this deal to rid themselves of Burnett and a chunk of his salary, and while the Pirates didn’t give up anyone “of note” for Burnett, there is the chance that this pair of Venezuelans could pay some dividends. The chances might be slim, the payoff might not be huge and it may take some time, but there is a little talent there to keep an eye on in the coming years.