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Yankee pitchers and catchers reported to spring training Monday and much to the delight of Yankee fans — A.J. Burnett was not one of them.
Burnett is now a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates after a week-long trade negotiation between the two franchises that was finally made official late Sunday afternoon. The Yankees sent Burnett to Pittsburgh, along with $18 Million, to cover the majority of the $33 Million that remains on his contract for 2012 and 2013, in return for prospects Diego Moreno and Exicardo Cayones.
Burnett became an enigma every time he took the mound. He had incredible stuff, but could rarely harness it. For every start in which he actually looked like the pitcher he was being paid to be, he was the complete opposite every 3-4 other starts. In fact, only 40% of his starts in 2010 and 2011 would qualify as quality ones. Despite possessing un-hitable stuff at times, he was getting hit. His mechanics were bad and it showed, as his walk rates and batters hit-by-pitch were consistently amongst the league leaders. As the hit totals increased, so too did his ERA. His strikeout rates went down and he became quite susceptible to giving up the long ball. The way he pitched was what you would expect from a young, inexperienced prospective type – certainly not what you would expect from a ten-year veteran making $16.5 million per season.
To his credit, Burnett had a good first year in the Bronx, back in 2009. He was a big reason why the team was able to capture its 27th World Series title that year – and not because he was the celebratory pie man after the walk-off wins,(which, might I add, got really old in 2010 and 2011). Burnett did pitch a great game to in Game 2 of the World Series, evening the series en route to the Yanks’ elimination of the Phillies in six games.
But even in 2009, A.J. wasn’t great – only good – which was not good enough for what was expected of him following the five year, $82.5 million deal he singed to join the Yankees.
His attitude and demeanor on the mound didn’t do anything to garner any sympathy from Yankee fans. He was stubborn, and rather arrogant. He clashed with catcher Jorge Posada a few times in 2009, so much so that manager Joe Girardi declared Jose Molina his personal battery mate – even starting Molina in World Series games over Posada to please Burnett. Burnett also had a few spats with Girardi, most notably in 2011, but Girardi was quick to diffuse those rumors when they surfaced.
All in all though, if you are a Yankee fan, you should love this trade regardless of the other details. You are satisfied that Burnett is gone and that is all that really matters to you. It once seemed as if nothing would prevent Burnett from being a complete albatross, but the Yankees were willing and able to fork over enough money to deal him away.
But if you’re the Yankees organization, you should have a completely different mindset on the matter. The Yankees will now be paying $9 million each of the next two years for another team’s player. That to me, is sad – in any way shape or form. I don’t care how else you’d like to construe it. Not to mention the Yankees only received two low to mid-level prospects in return – one, a 25-year-old pitcher, the other a 20-year-old outfielder – neither of which are expected to progress much further in their development.
I feel this move is wasteful, even for the Yankees — who will once again exceed the $200 Million payroll range. From a logistical and economic standpoint, it’s not a good trade for the Yankees. I would be more understanding of the move had the Yankees not spent upwards of a combined $15 million in 1-year-deals for Hiroki Kuroda and Freddy Garcia. If all goes right for the Yankees, their playoff rotation won’t consist of either Kuroda or Garcia, because CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes would make the four best options, if they perform up to their expectations and best abilities.
Okay, yes, both Kuroda and Garcia are better options than Burnett may be, but not by a substantial enough margin that would warrant paying three players (Kuroda, Garcia and Burnett) between $20-25 million for what is very realistically going to come down to one available spot in the rotation.
I’m also jumping the gun here in declaring Hughes ahead of Kuroda as the fourth starter, but that’s what I prefer and expect to happen. I believe Hughes is going to have a real nice bounce back year and an regain his 2010 form as a 18-game winner. Kuroda has been an underrated pitcher for the Dodgers since he came to the MLB. But, we don’t know yet if he can be as serviceable pitching in the smaller, hitter-friendly confines of the ballparks in the American League. Playing devil’s advocate, I don’t think Kuroda is going to transition well enough to be deemed higher than fourth in the rotations depth chart.
Of course, injuries are inevitable and can have all sorts of negative impacts in determining the rotation as the season unfolds. For that reason, having six capable starters is a great problem to have. As the old adage goes, you can never have too much pitching — especially in spring training.