A.J. Burnett likely to find new life in Pittsburgh

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It’s a small sample size for sure, but when Jeremy Guthrie was traded earlier this month, I pointed out how the last nine established starting pitchers to leave the AL East lowered their ERAs by an average of a full run upon setting up shop elsewhere.

If A.J. Burnett can keep that up after the Yankees and Pirates agreed to a trade Friday, the 35-year-old right-hander is looking at an ERA right around 4.00 this season.

After a successful first season in New York, Burnett finished with ERAs of 5.26 and 5.15 in his final two years in Pinstripes. Given that he’s a two-pitch pitcher who has lost something off his fastball, it’s easy to see why the Yankees wanted to move on.

Still, Burnett did manage to strike out 173 batters in 190 1/3 innings last season. Now that he’ll get to face pitchers instead of designated hitters, he could fan even more batters this season. And he’s going from baseball’s toughest division for pitchers to what might be its easiest in the NL Central. Burnett had a 6.22 ERA in AL East play last season. In 2010, it was 5.82.

So, no, Burnett is no longer worth anywhere near $17 million per season. But $13 million over two years, which is what the Pirates will be paying him, seems like a pretty fair price. Once one of the game’s most injury-prone starters, Burnett has no made 32 starts four years running. He’s not going to lead the Pirates back to the postseason, but he should be an asset.

Cubs won’t make Kyle Schwarber available in trade talks

Kyle Schwarber
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Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports that the Cubs won’t deal Kyle Schwarber this winter, despite multiple inquires from teams around the league. Schwarber is approaching his first year of arbitration and will remain under team control for another three seasons before reaching free agency in 2022.

The decision comes on the heels of one of the strongest seasons of the 25-year-old outfielder’s short career. Over 137 games and 510 PA for the Cubs, he proved a passable defender in left field and batted .238/.356/.467 with 26 home runs, an .823 OPS, and 3.2 fWAR in 2018. He also led the National League in intentional walks, with 20, and bumped up his total walks from 59 in 2017 to 78.

Despite his marked improvements from previous years, Schwarber’s performance still left something to be desired — specifically against left-handed pitchers, who held the slugger to a paltry .224/.352/.303 with four extra-base hits across 91 PA. Still, it’s evident the Cubs feel Schwarber is capable of strengthening his splits in the years to come, and they might stand to get more value from him on the field than they would in a trade this offseason.

Of course, that’s not to say the Cubs intend to pass the Winter Meetings in total silence, especially as they’ll be seeking bullpen and catching depth in advance of their 2019 run at the division title. As club president Theo Epstein remarked last week, “We’re certainly open and active in trade talks with a lot of deals that usually don’t come to fruition. So, we may make some trades. We could make big ones that transform the roster. We may make smaller complementary ones. But there’s certain things we’d like to accomplish.”