#5 – Starting pitcher A.J. Burnett
Prior to the start of the 2012 season Neal Huntington made what in my opinion was his best trade as general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. He traded two minor league players, one of which never reached the MLB level, to the New York Yankees in exchange for starting pitcher A.J. Burnett.
At the time the trade received mix reviews as Burnett was coming off a poor season and a tumultuous ending to his career in the Bronx. Well, it quickly became apparent that all Burnett needed was a change in scenery.
The second he arrived in Pittsburgh Burnett started to work toward changing the clubhouse atmosphere. Losing was no longer going to be accepted in Pittsburgh, not with Burnett around. Even though the team went 79-83 during his first season in the Burgh, they contended for a postseason spot into September and then won 95 games on their way to a postseason berth in 2013.
In his first season with the Bucs Burnett posted a 3.51 ERA, 3.52 FIP, 21.2% strikeout rate, and a 3.5 fWAR in 202.1 innings pitched across 31 starts. Year two saw the numbers improve as he posted a 3.30 ERA, 2.80 FIP, 27.6% strikeout rate, and a 4.0 fWAR in 30 starts.
After pitching for the Phillies in 2014, Burnett returned to Pittsburgh for his swan song in 2015. In the final season of his MLB career, Burnett helped anchor a Pirate rotation that led the team to 98 victories. Despite spending time on the injured list, Burnett posted a 3.18 ERA, 3.36 FIP and a 2.6 fWAR in 26 starts. He also made his first and only career All-Star Game appearance in 2015.
Batman was one of the best starting pitchers in Pirate history, and was also one of the most popular players in franchise history. He helped pitch two teams to the postseason and will never again have to pay for anything in the city if Pittsburgh. He helped change the culture in Pittsburgh, and to this day would win mayor by a landslide in the Burgh.