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.
Yankees starter Luis Severino and Phillies starter Aaron Nola both signed contract extensions within the last week. Severino agreed to a four-year, $40 million contract with a 2023 club option. Nola inked a four-year, $45 million deal with a 2023 club option.
While the deals both represented significant raises and longer-term financial security for the right-handed duo, some feel like the players are selling themselves short. It has become a more common practice for players to agree to these types of deals in part due to how stagnant free agency has become. Get the money while you can.
Mets starter Noah Syndergaard is in a similar situation as Severino and Nola were. He and the Mets avoided arbitration last month, agreeing on a $6 million salary for the 2019 season. He has two more years of arbitration eligibility left. A contract extension with the Mets would presumably cover both of those years plus two or three years of what would be free agent years. As Tim Britton of The Athletic reports, however, Syndergaard plans to test free agency when the time comes.
Syndergaard said, “I trust my ability and the talent that I have. So I feel like I’m going to bet (on) myself in free agency and not do what they did. But if it’s fair for both sides and they approach me on it, then maybe we can talk.” He clarified that he would be open to a conversation about an extension, but the Mets thus far haven’t approached him about it. In his words, “There’s been no traction.”
Syndergaard, 26, has been one of baseball’s better starters since debuting in 2015. He owns a career 2.93 ERA with 573 strikeouts and 116 walks in 518 1/3 innings. Among pitchers to have logged at least 400 innings since 2015 and post a lower ERA are Clayton Kershaw (2.22), Jacob deGrom (2.66) and Max Scherzer (2.71). Syndergaard made only seven starts in 2017 yet still ranks seventh among pitchers in total strikeouts since 2015.
If Sydergaard doesn’t end up signing an extension, he will be entering free agency after the 2021 season. The collective bargaining agreement expires in December 2021 and a new one will likely be agreed upon around that time. Syndergaard will hopefully have better prospects entering free agency then than players do now.