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Without Burnett, Yanks Don’t Get a World Series Ring

By Mike Silva ~ February 18th, 2012. Filed under: New York Yankees.

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 WrightCarl 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.

Mike Silva is a freelance writer and radio host since March of 2007. This website is his own personal "digest" of New York Baseball He's also hosts NYBD Radio on Blog Talk Radio and 1240 AM WGBB. Check out his sports media commentary at www.sportsmediawatchdog.com. Check out his official website, www.mikesilvamedia.com
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5 Responses to Without Burnett, Yanks Don’t Get a World Series Ring

  1. Chuck Johnson

    They weren’t getting one with him, either.

  2. Mister D

    Weak thinking. Yes, Burnett won them game 2. He also blew Game 5. Remove his games from the mix and the team has one less win and one less loss, up 3-1 with three games to play. Yes, if you wish to assume that the Yankees would have done nothing to addess their needs in his absence, they would have been in trouble. But using that logic I can also argue that the Yankees do not with that ring without any one of the following:

    1. A-Rod
    2. Jeter
    3. Sabathia
    4. Teixiera
    5. Cano
    6. Posada
    8. Matsui
    9. Damon
    10. Swisher
    11. Cabrera
    12. Gardner
    13. Mo
    14. Hairston
    15. Hinske
    16. Molina
    17. Coke
    18. Marte
    19. Robertson
    20. Aceves

    Each of these players played key roles either during the regular season or in the playoffs. Remove any of them without installing an adequate replacement, and the whole house of cards could have collapsed in the postseason (if they even made it).

    The truth is removing AJ resets the clock back not just to the start of the post season, but to the early pre-season. The Yankees would have done SOMETHING to address that missing starter, and given AJ’s adequate perfomance that season, it is not hard to see the new starter (Lowe? Lee? Halladay?) giving an eqivilent performance.

    But this is baseball. The game of inches. Any slight change in the initial conditions could completely change the outcome, as they would for every team that has won a championship. Let us recognize AJ’s contribution, but let us not overstate it.

  3. Steve S.

    Here’s his complete 2009 playoff record:

    ALDS Game 2
    6 IP 3 H 5BB 1 ER

    ALCS Game 2
    6.1 IP 3H 2BB 2 ER

    ALCS Game 5
    6 IP 8 H 3BB 6 ER

    WS Game 2
    7 IP 4 H 2 BB 1 ER

    WS Game 6
    2 IP 6H 4BB 6ER

    In 5 starts he had 3 good ones and two awful outings. I have trouble giving him too much credit for WS game 2 (facing Pedro) when he gave his team little chance to win Game 5 (facing Cliff Lee). Like most players, he’s exactly the same in the playoffs that he is in the regular season when given enough opportunities.

    As far as his signing goes, I don’t think it was a mistake and did a post on that last week. Looking at the other pitchers that were available that year, AJ was the best one after CC. Cashman made the right call, it just didn’t work out after 2009.

  4. Mike Silva


    You could argue that Derek Lowe was a better fit: AL East experience and a penchant for pitching well in the playoffs. If AJ gets 5-years from Atlanta, I doubt Lowe would have required more than 3.


  5. Mister D

    Hindsight remains 50/50. We don’t know what would have happened had we signed Lowe rather than AJ, but given the dire straights the Yankees were in at that time, I doubt that they would have waited for one pitcher to sign with another team. At the time AJ was signed, CC was the only healthy pitcher commited to the Yankees for 2009 (Joba, Hughes, and Wang were injured, Pettite a free agent). They were desperate, and it showed in that fifth year. Remember the case against AJ then was not his stuff nor his head, but his health. Even so, I suspect many of us, knowing how things turned out, would have pulled the trigger on AJ, headaches and all, just because we know we got that ring, and we didn’t have to lose Montero to trade for a Halladay or Lee, whom we could have lost to free agency.

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