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Pirates' trade for Burnett done, pending approval

| Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012

After weeks of haggling, the Pirates on Friday acquired right-hander A.J. Burnett from the New York Yankees, pending a physical and approval from Major League Baseball, sources told the Tribune-Review.

The Pirates will part with two Class A prospects, reliever Diego Moreno and corner outfielder Exicardo Cayones. The Pirates also will pay $13 million -- $5 million this year and $8 million in 2013 -- of the $33 million salary Burnett is owed over the next two seasons.

Because the deal involves more than $1 million cash, it must be approved by MLB commissioner Bud Selig.

Burnett will have his physical this weekend and is expected to be in uniform Sunday, when Pirates pitchers and catchers hold their first workout of spring training in Brandeton, Fla.

Center fielder Andrew McCutchen tweeted yesterday afternoon, "A.j. Burnett....looking foward to playing with him. ill get him #BUCN soon! Yeeaaaaa!"

After getting three mediocre seasons out of Burnett, the Yankees sought to trade him to free up cash to sign a designated hitter such as Johnny Damon or Raul Ibanez.

With money to spend and a starting rotation in need of a boost, the Pirates pursued the deal aggressively.

Before making the trade, the Pirates' projected 2012 payroll was roughly $48 million, about $7 million below their expected budget.

Last season, Pirates starting pitchers ranked 11th in the National League with a combined 4.21 ERA. They were 13th in wins, 14th in WHIP, 16th in innings pitched and 16th in batting average against. The rotation also was wracked by season-ending injuries to Paul Maholm and Kevin Correia.

Over the winter, the Pirates cut ties with Maholm and signed free-agent left-hander Erik Bedard. Righty Charlie Morton, their most effective pitcher most of last season, will get a late start in spring training as he recovers from hip surgery.

A 12-year veteran, Burnett, 35, has a career record of 121-111 and a 4.10 ERA. He won World Series rings with the Florida Marlins in 2003 and the Yankees in 2009, and threw a no-hitter in 2001.

In 2008, Burnett went 18-10 with a 4.07 ERA for the Toronto Blue Jays and led the American League with 34 games started. In three years after signing with the Yankees, Burnett went 34-35 with a 4.79 ERA. In two of those seasons, he led the majors in wild pitches.

In 2011, Burnett had the third-worst ERA in the AL and allowed a career-worst 31 homers. Yet he also ranked 10th in the league with 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings and 11th in ground balls induced.

A longtime American League scout said Burnett's stuff is still good enough to rack up double-digit wins for the Pirates.

"Being back in the National League will help him a lot," the scout said. "His fastball plays at 92 to 95 mph, and when his curveball is on, it's very good."

However, the scout warned that Burnett essentially has only two pitches. And there are maturity concerns: Burnett was known for slapping whipped cream pies in his teammates' faces after big wins in New York.

"When things go south on him, he kind of throws his arms up and gives up," the scout said. "He's got to be coddled by the pitching coach and the manager. Some of his antics wore thin in the Yankees' clubhouse, I think."

The Pirates signed Moreno out of Venezuela in 2007 for $7,000. Last year, he pitched in 41 games, including 34 for High-A Bradenton and went a combined 2-4 with a 3.63 ERA. He has a 97 mph fastball, but his strikeout rate declined, and control problems began to surface.

Moreno, 25, pitched briefly at Double-A Altoona last season but was suspended for unprofessional conduct and eventually demoted back to Bradenton.

Cayones, 20, was signed for $400,000 in 2008 out of Venezuela. He split last season between rookie-level Bradenton and short-season State College.

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