It seems all but inevitable that A.J. Burnett will be toeing the rubber in PNC Park come April, and my feelings are surprisingly mixed on the subject. While I do genuinely believe that he may be the best option of the fifth starter triumvirate (mostly due to the higher beta of Phil Hughes and the blase nature of Freddy Garcia), I cannot help but feel that Burnett’s quirkiness, the minor spats with Girardi and Rothschild, and the endless trade speculation will result in nothing short of distractions, if not genuine dissension. It is always a thrill to see Burnett fire off a 96 MPH heater followed by a knee-buckling curve with startling command, but those instances have come fewer and further between … and most memories of Burnett revolve around his confrontations with the coaching staff (both on the mound and in the dugout) and meltdowns that generally culminate in towering home runs. The sort of promise that Burnett offers, in short, is that which we may drool over with a starting pitcher in his early 20s, hoping and praying that he can get his head on straight – at 35, I doubt even the most unabashed optimist would cross his fingers for Burnett.
In dealing Burnett, Brian Cashman et al would spare the team, the fans, and the brass of one of the most distracting Yankees (non-Rodriguez division) in recent memory. Such a distraction can be acceptable, as is/was the case with Rodriguez, where production is a guarantee … yet Burnett’s replacement-level adventures in 2010 and 2011 cannot be obscured by his surprisingly decent peripherals where $33 MM and consistent inconsistency are ubiquitous. And for this – for all of this – I do believe that it is time that A.J. Burnett is shown the door.
At this juncture, it does appear that the only questions involve the return and the savings (which may as well be a single issue). To me, Burnett represents a sunk cost, and any money that Cashman can recoup for the team’s coffers is a veritable bonus. The likelihood of Burnett rebounding in pitcher-friendly PNC Park is astronomical, particularly with the departures of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder from the NL Central, but that does not somehow improve Burnett’s stock as a pitcher – and yes, this is my likely futile attempt to stem any hindsight-driven lamentations that would stem from a 2009-ish line with the Pirates.
None of this is to say that the Yankees should not attempt to extract something of value from the Pirates. Garrett Jones seems like a safer and smarter bet than Raul Ibanez, Johnny Damon, or Hideki Matsui, and his arbitration request checked in at $2.5 MM (right in-line with what some expect one of those three to command). Michael Eder penned an excellent write-up on Jones yesterday, and I suggest you check it out. Should Jones not be an option (which I don’t think he is unless the Yankees pick up all $33 MM or add something of at least minor value to the deal), a lottery ticket type prospect would be very appealing. To be perfectly frank, I would settle for a low-risk, moderate reward minor leaguer like Justin Wilson, who appears destined for a fine career as a lefty specialist. With an organization as deep as the Pirates, there exists an almost limitless supply of both gambles and Justin Wilsons, and I am quite sure that Cashman will do his due diligence.
With all that being said, however, my endorsement of a straight salary dump stands. This may not be the most classical sort of ‘addition by subtraction,’ but it represents a clear-cut ‘yes’ decision insofar as the roster is concerned.
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