The Indians enter the AJ Burnett derby

Talk about the New York Yankees dealing AJ Burnett has centered around Pittsburgh, and those talks are intensifying. Current rumors would have the Pirates sending roster-filler type prospects to the Yankees while picking up around $13 million of the $33 million left on Burnett’s deal. But two other teams have also checked in on Burnett: the Los Angeles Angels, and the Cleveland Indians. But Burnett has said he isn’t willing to waive his no-trade clause to go to Los Angeles, not wanting to leave the east coast.

The Indians remain a possibility, and a name has actually surfaced in possibly going back to New York: oft-injured designated hitter Travis Hafner. Hafner is due $13 million in 2012, and has a $13 million club option for 2013 (with a $2.75 million buyout). Compare that to the $33 million left on Burnett’s deal, and you could have a pretty even swap on your hands.

Hafner signed a four year extension in July of 2007 that would start off in 2009, but it’s been all downhill for him since there. He’s totalled just 363 games in the four seasons since signing the extension, and he’s posted just a .790 OPS over that time. His 3.0 fWAR is ninth among Indians hitters over those four years. In the five years prior to that, Hafner had a .956 OPS, and was worth 18.6 fWAR. He turns 35 mid-way through the 2012 season.

Now, what would the Indians want with Burnett? The team just added a highly paid veteran starter this offseason in Derek Lowe, acquired from the Braves for scrap in November, and brought in Ubaldo Jimenez last summer from the Colorado Rockies. Combine those two with ace Justin Masterson, and Cleveland’s top three isn’t too bad. The back-end isn’t too good though, with Carlos Carrasco probably expected to miss the season after Tommy John surgery in September, and returning starter Josh Talbot being a guy who has pinpoint control, but doesn’t miss bats and allows way too many homers. The identity issues with Roberto Hernandez Heredia (the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona) have opened up a slot in the rotation, and Burnett could be a decent fit as a back-end guy. All of Cleveland’s starting pitching in the minors is too young and raw to have an impact this year, and they’d probably need a veteran to fill out the staff anyway.

How would the Tribe fill Hafner’s spot in the lineup for the games he’d be healthy for? They’ve got guys. Jim Thome is gone to Philadelphia after being acquired late in the season from the Twins, but the Indians still have Shelley Duncan (.808 OPS last year in 76 games) and Matt LaPorta (who’s lost his job at first base to new signee Casey Kotchman) in the fold, and either wouldn’t be an awful DH. 

Why would the Yankees want Hafner? They’ve still got a hole at DH after the retirement of Jorge Posada and the trade of Jesus Montero to the Mariners. They’ve been linked to former Phillie Raul Ibanez, and when healthy, Hafner is a much better option than Ibanez. The problem though, is the health. The team does have Andruw Jones under contract for 2012, and he could serve as the DH and fourth outfielder for the club after posting an .851 OPS for New York last year in 222 plate appearances. He hasn’t been a full-time player since 2007 though, his final year in Atlanta. That season, he OPSed just .724, and began a downward spiral that leaves the the soon to be 35 year-old where he is now: as a bench bat.

I’d really like this deal for both teams if it went down, and it seems to make a lot more sense for New York than to eat a huge chunk of Burnett’s contract and get next to nothing in return, like the deal with the Pirates would result in.

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Joe Lucia

About Joe Lucia

I'm the managing editor of Awful Announcing and the news editor of The Comeback. I also made The Outside Corner a thing for six seasons.