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Yanks Pitching Depth Won’t Be Hurt by Dealing Burnett

By Chuck Johnson ~ February 15th, 2012. Filed under: Digest Contributors, New York Yankees.

In his daily column on February 13th, Mike Silva wrote that trading A.J. Burnett would hurt the Yankees’ pitching depth, especially if the deal was simply a contract dump with no regard to what was received in return.

I disagree.

To a point.

If you look at the Yanks projected 25 man roster, they are at least seven deep in solid, major league starter candidates. If you look at their 40 man roster, twenty are pitchers, with fourteen being starters. If you look at their current list of non-roster invitees to spring training, fourteen of the twenty-seven are pitchers, including the likes of Manny BanuelosBrett MarshallAdam Miller and Adam Warren.

Now, there’s no doubt the overall depth of pitching throughout the system is shallower than an episode of “Jersey Shore,” but the list of guys about to report to Tampa is pretty deep, leaving no question to Burnett being nothing more than a wasted luxury.

It’s like the rich guy who lives in Montauk with the $33 million dollar yacht who gets transferred to South Dakota; the boat might look good parked in his driveway, but how the hell are you going to use it?

ESPN’s Keith Law recently ranked the Yankees’ farm system as the tenth best in MLB, which I personally think is overly generous; especially after the trade of top prospect Jesus Montero. But I do agree with his assessment the system pitching depth resides at the top levels, again, a situation which points to Burnett being expendable.

While it’s true the overall depth may not be as deep as it was a year ago, with Ivan Nova establishing himself as a major leaguer, with Hector Noesi calling the post office with an address change, with Andrew Brackman finally getting a pink slip and lefthander Jeremy Bleich undergoing Tommy John surgery, those remaining make up the difference by being better and closer than they were last March.

Some of the others included Manny Banuelos, who reached Triple-A at age 20, Dellin Betances finally made his major league debut, and David Phelps led the prestigious Arizona Fall League in innings pitched.

So, not only are there a handful of capable pitchers in the system, they are all close enough to warrant close scrutiny in Tampa over the next six weeks.

And, yet, the Yankees are not satisfied.

Two months ago, the Yankees’ projected opening day rotation consisted of CC Sabathia, Ivan NovaPhil Hughes, Freddy Garcia and Burnett. There are a lot of major league teams today who would kill for those five guys.

Freddy Garcia did a nice job last year, surprisingly enough, but bring him back for $4 million?

Um, no.

Is Nova going to repeat last year? Well, no, probably not, but neither is Hughes, so that’s a wash.

Add those factors to the acquisition of Michael Pineda and the free agent signing of Hiroki Kuroda, and the Yanks’ now have too much pitching.

There’s no argument the Burnett deal is arguably the worst free agent contract not only in Yankees’ history, but in free agent history. For $49.5 million dollars over the past three seasons, the Yanks have gotten in return a 34-35 record and the second-highest ERA in franchise history (behind Hank Johnson) for any pitcher with more than 500 innings pitched.

There are many different considerations which go into a trade, the Toronto Blue Jays traded a great guy in Vernon Wells who just happened to have a bad contract for a minimal return, and they cared more about getting rid of the financial obligation than the return.

The San Diego Padres traded a great player who happened to be a native of their city not because they couldn’t afford him, but because they knew his contract would have long-term ramifications on their ability to remain competitive. Adrian Gonzalez is so good other teams knew he had value even though he really didn’t, and willingly entered a bidding war for his services and eventually one team ultimately over-paid for him.

The Yankees don’t need to trade A.J. Burnett. They are the richest team in baseball, and would be more than capable of banishing him to a bullpen role and still smiling when writing his $1.4 million dollar bi-weekly paychecks just as easily as they would be in shipping him to baseball’s purgatory equivalent and getting nothing in return.

Because not only do they have the depth in their checking account balance to do so, they also have the human depth as well.

The Yankees payroll will be different without Burnett, their clubhouse will be different without Burnett, and even the official team picture would be different without Burnett.

Their place in the standings, however, won’t.

A life-long Yankee fan who counts among his fondest memories seeing “The Mick” play in person, Chuck is a long time member of SABR and the Minor League Alumni Association. A staff researcher for Retrosheet, and a former part-time scout with the Mariners, Chuck now works for the Milwaukee Brewers in their Spring Training Operations Office and holds a similar role in the offseason for the Arizona Fall League. Chuck's newest venture is as a staff writer for MLB.com's new minor league blog http://thefuturists.mlblogs.com, led by Senior Writer Jonathan Mayo. You can check him out there under user cjohns56 (same as Twitter), and on his soon to be launched personal website, www.mlbprospectpulse.com.
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8 Responses to Yanks Pitching Depth Won’t Be Hurt by Dealing Burnett

  1. Stu B

    As only the immortal Yogi could have put it, they have deep depth!

  2. Ken Bland

    “Two months ago, the Yankees’ projected opening day rotation consisted of CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia and Burnett. There are a lot of major league teams today who would kill for those five guys.”

    Secondary issue that it is, since that’s a rotation of the past anyway, I doubt the list is as long as you might think of clubs that would want a rotation like that, particularly among contenders, which is a much fairer measuring stick. It’s an easy enough line to fall back on, but it serves drmatic purpose more than anything. Sure, the Cubs, Houston, the Mets and the like might see that as an improvement, but would the Brewers, Cardinals, or Reds see it as a plus, let alone clearly superior rotations like the Phils or Rays? CC’s a great, great plus, but on the whole, top to bottom, I doubt a staff trade is as attractive as atucl thought would make it.

    Also, historically, I suspect there are many more examples of worst free agent contracts for a pitcher than suspected. Just off the top of my head, Wayne Garland, Adam Eaton, Kei Igawa are pretty competitive. Not that AJ’s better than a lot of them, but it’s not like he’s that alone.

    Besides those maybe picky points, I’ll just contribute that while it’s hard to forget Burnett’s past representing some degree of retracable recovery, the lack of a change of scenery maybe hinders that from happening, and it’s very hard to believe that roster cuts wouldn’t make replacing him as he’s pitched recently pretty easily doable.

  3. Frank Russo


    AJ was not the worst signing of a pitcher in Yankees History. The worst is a tie between Igawa and Carl Pavano.

  4. Chuck Johnson

    Pavano was hurt, Frank, so you really can’t lay all that on him, but, yeah, Igawa is right up there.

  5. Stu B

    Eddie Lee Whitson was no great shakes either.

  6. Eddiedi

    Who is Adam Miller

    Bleich had shoulder surger and has not pitched in a year and a half

  7. Mister D

    Technically moving anyone hurts depth somewhere, but from CC to DJ Mitchell the Yankees are 10 deep at the starter spot, with Banuelos and Betances as outside chances to contribute later. No one has faith in AJ being able to put it together in the Bronx. Maybe he can do it elsewhere, and honestly I hope he does. But we have a bunch of young players (including Phil Hughes) who should not lose development time for him. And if the Yankees are in bad enough shape that AJ Burnett was going to be a critical factor in 2012, I’d rather toss in the towel and audition the new prospects.

  8. Stu B

    This is Adam Miller -

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