Without Burnett, Yanks Don’t Get a World Series Ring
Without Burnett, Yanks Don’t Get a World Series Ring
It amazed me how the legacy of A.J. Burnett got worse as the rumors of an impending trade neared. Listening to the fans and media pundits, you would think Burnett is the worst pitcher in baseball. As a matter of fact, there was talk about how this could be the worst free agent signing in Yankees history. Amazing how everyone forgets the contracts given to Jaret Wright, Carl Pavano, and Kei Igawa the last decade.
The Burnett deal was a concern to me when it was signed not because of performance, but due to health. At that point, he’d only pitched 200 innings once in his career; both times it was when a big payday was due. I saw it as overly optimistic that Burnett would stay healthy for a majority of the contract. Again, this was on the heels of the disastrous Carl Pavano 4-year deal that saw him make just 26-starts during that time.
In 3 years, Burnett averaged a shade under 200 innings (195) and gave you about 33 starts a season. That certainly isn’t worth $16.5 million, but it aligns well with his prior Toronto contract ($11 million AAV). Cashman thought he was getting 18-game winner we saw in Toronto in 2008. History indicated that was an outlier season and what he produced the prior two years was more realistic. Even in that great 2008, his ERA+ of 104 was slight above league average. As a matter of fact, you could argue his 2009 was better.
That was the year the Yankees received value on the contract. Was a World Series title worth spending- when you calculate the money they are picking up in the Pirates deal- just under $70 million for his services?
The Yankees did the near impossible in ’09- win a World Series with 3 starters. Sabathia, Pettitte, Chamberlain, and Burnett made over 30 starts during the regular season. I almost don’t count Chamberlain’s since his final 8-10 starts rarely saw him get past the 4th inning.
They entered the postseason hoping for the Sabathia/Pettitte/Burnett trio to get them through three rounds of playoffs. If a need for another starter arose, it was possible an elimination game could have been pitched by Sergio Mitre or Chad Gaudin; a delicious scenario for those that subscribe to the Yankees postseason “crack-committee.”
Thanks to that aforementioned starting pitching trio, their bats and Mariano Rivera, the Yankees didn’t break as much of a sweat in October; except for Game 2 of the World Series.
Coming off a disappointing Game 1 loss to Cliff Lee, the Yankees were facing the prospect of being down 2-0 heading back to the cozy confines of Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies were in the midst of a 3-year run that saw everything go right for them; that is, until A.J. Burnett took the mound that night.
He pitched 7 innings, walked 2 and struck out 9. Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain had been shaky against Los Angeles in the ALCS, so getting the ball to Rivera was huge. After a second inning in which he gave up back-to-back hits that led to a Phillies run, there was nary a sweaty moment. The Yanks would win Game 2 by a score of 3-1, and wrap up the series a week later.
Other than that game, Burnett wasn’t great that postseason. The Phillies rocked him in Game 5, Anaheim did the same in the ALCS, and Minnesota had plenty of opportunities in Game 2 of the ALDS. None of those other games were “must wins.” Burnett was playing with a bit of house money, perhaps leading to his typical concentration problems. When the Yankees needed him the most, however, he was there.
If the Yankees don’t win Game 2 of the 2009 World Series, what happens? It’s not impossible to think they could rally from a 2-0 deficit, but the odds are against them. Is Joe Girardi still the Yankees manager? It would be another example of his teams playing tight in the biggest moments. What about Brian Cashman? Maybe he doesn’t get the contract extension this year after losing to Detroit in the first round. Who knows what other “knee-jerk” player moves the Steinbrenners make as a result.
A.J. Burnett was a disappointment as a pitcher. It also sounds like he isn’t the best teammate to have around the clubhouse. That doesn’t mean his legacy was one of complete trash. Earlier, I mentioned free agent busts such as Pavano ($40 million), Wright ($18 million) and Igawa ($46 million). That trio earned a combined $104 million dollars, or $22 million more than the value of Burnett’s deal. Two of those individuals never saw much light of day. Wright came up small against Detroit when the Yankees needed him in the ’06 ALDS elimination game. Funny, a similar scenario last season saw Burnett pitch the Yankees to Game 5.
Burnett was frustrating, but he wasn’t a total waste. The Yankees have spent far more for less. They better hope they aren’t scrambling for an “innings guy” to fill their rotation needs mid-season. They might want to remember they had one who they now pay to pitch for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The field manager and GM also might still be employed here because of him.By Mike Silva
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