February 2012

A.J. runs away from AL East

The A.J. Burnett saga with the Yankees has finally come to an end. After two seasons that had Yankees fans pulling out their hair on a regular basis, Burnett found a new home. With a surplus of starting pitching, the Yankees were able to ship Burnett to Pittsburgh for a pair of medium-level prospects. They are stuck with paying all but $13 million of what was left on the five-year, $82.5-million contract that he signed before the 2009 season, but the addition-by-subtraction move was worth it to the Yankees.

Burnett was a perplexing figure during his three years with the Yankees in which he was 34-35 with a 4.79 ERA. His 2010 season (10-15, 5.26 ERA) was the worst for a Yankees starting pitcher with more than 30 starts in team history, and 2011 (11-11, 5.15 ERA) wasn’t much better. After coming to the Yankees fresh off an 18-10 season with the Blue Jays when he led the American League in strikeouts with 231 in 221 1/3 innings, Burnett was barely a .500 pitcher in pinstripes.

One of the dangers in assessing pitchers is how they perform against your club. Burnett had been something of a Yankee killer while in Toronto with a 6-3 record and 2.43 ERA in 11 career starts. The Yankees then gave him close to Mike Mussina money but got nowhere near the return that Moose had given them (123-72, 3.88 ERA over eight seasons). Burnett never came close to pitching for the Yanks as well as he pitched against them.

Backers of A.J. point to his victory in Game 2 of the 2009 World Series, which was huge, but in his other start Burnett failed to nail down the Series by lasting merely two innings in Game 5 and had a 7.00 ERA for the Series. His dismal showings against the Red Sox over the three years (1-4, 7.29 ERA) caused manager Joe Girardi to figure out ways to avoid pitching Burnett against Boston if he could.

The Yankees came close to a deal with the Angels for Burnett that would have brought Bobby Abreu back to the Bronx as the left-handed designated hitter they had been seeking to platoon with Andruw Jones. But A.J. utilized his no-trade clause which pertained to West Coast teams because he wanted to stay in the east. So instead of playing alongside Albert Pujols and for one of the game’s foremost managers, Mike Scioscia, Burnett chose to accept a deal to the Pirates.

Maybe it will work out for A.J. in Pittsburgh. The manager there, Clint Hurdle, a former catcher, is a great guy. Burnett gets away from the AL East and will face tamer National League lineups minus the DH. Yankees fans should wish A.J. luck even as they cheer that he is no longer at Yankee Stadium. Someone else will have to handle the pie-in-the-face ceremonies after walk-off victories. I nominate Nick Swisher. What do you think?