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Why Was A.J. Burnett Trade Considered 'Sexy,' While Wandy Rodriguez Trade Wasn't?

July 15, 2012; Milwaukee, WI, USA;     Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett (34) pitches against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-US PRESSWIRE
July 15, 2012; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett (34) pitches against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-US PRESSWIRE

Rob Biertempfel writes about the Pirates' approach to the trade deadline in a way that makes his own feelings perfectly clear.

Both [Travis Snider and Gaby Sanchez] are making near the major league minimum and won’t hit free agency for a while. Hope for the future, blah blah blah.

One phrase I didn’t hear, though, was, "This puts us over the top in the playoff race this year."

At the start of spring training, Huntington made a sexy trade when he snatched A.J. Burnett away from the Yankees. The clubhouse was energized from the moment Burnett toted his gear to his locker at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla. Since then, the feeling has only grown more positive.

It was different when Rodriguez, Qualls, Sanchez and Snider arrived. Not exactly in a bad way, but also not in a manner that suggests the team feels a new sense of completeness.

I'm certainly in no position to judge how the clubhouse feels, but neither do I care very much. One question, though: why would Burnett, who put up ERAs above five in two straight years with the Yankees before coming to Pittsburgh, have been seen as a super-sexy difference-maker and blah blah blah, while Rodriguez, who'd been a consistently good starter for many years before being traded, was not? I'm not saying Rodriguez will be as good as Burnett, but I don't think the apparently-large gap in how the trades were perceived when they occurred makes a lot of sense.

Don't get me wrong -- I liked the Burnett trade at the time, because the Pirates weren't giving up a whole lot and because there was excellent potential for Burnett to bounce back due to his move from Yankee Stadium and the A.L. East to PNC Park and the N.L. Central. But the idea that the idea that the trade for Rodriguez was fundamentally different and less exciting is strange to me.

I'm not saying Biertempfel is wrong about attitudes in the clubhouse. But let's not forget that the reason Burnett was available for practically nothing is because the Yankees were eager to get rid of him. I remember I did a radio interview around the time of the Burnett trade, and I was asked how I felt about the Pirates dumpster-diving. My response, after discussing Burnett's strikeout rate and the change in park and league contexts, was to say that the economics of baseball were such that it sometimes made sense for the Pirates to eat other teams' garbage. It turned out there was some filet mignon in there, but let's not forget that at the time, "dumpster-diving" was a wholly accurate metaphor for what was going on. The Yankees threw him out.

The players' opinions might have to do with who Burnett is personally, or they might have to do with the team's changing expectations -- when the Burnett trade took place, the Bucs were coming off a 72-win season, but when the Rodriguez trade took place, they were a contender. In the end, though, I don't really care what players think, and I reject the idea that "sexiness" should be the key criterion for whether Huntington did well at the deadline, since Huntington has seasons beyond 2012 to worry about. The players' opinions are irrelevant to the question of whether Huntington did the right thing. But the idea that the Rodriguez trade was uninspiring while the Burnett deal was "sexy" is just strange, unless you have a garbage fetish.