The Burnett signing isn’t my favorite ever; he’s injury prone and has never really pitched up to his potential.
But arguably the biggest difference between the two decisions is that while Sabathia is irreplaceable, Sabathia’s signing makes Burnett superfluous at best. The Yankees badly needed an ace who could provide a large number of innings, which is Sabathia’s resume exactly. Joba Chamberlain slots in nicely as a number two, but he is an ace-quality performer who has yet to prove he can give New York 200 innings. Chien-Ming Wang is a solid number three, while Andy Pettitte, who is likely to return, is a good bet to be a better-than-average number 4.
Burnett is not going to be the fifth starter, let me say that right now. The Yankees lost one of their best starters (Mussina) from a team that had to rely on Pavano, Rasner, and Ponson last year. Yet signing 2 starters is overkill?
This leaves Burnett as a hugely overqualified fifth starter. But with Pettitte now 36 and Wang and Chamberlain coming off of injuries, the Yankees needed to guarantee innings on the back end of the rotation, not gamble on high-risk excellence.
If Burnett is so superfluous, why should they have instead signed an innings eater? If he’s not integral, then isn’t he exactly the type of high reward, high risk player you’d want?
The signing of Burnett leads to two other potential problems. One is that $16 million per season could have gone a long way toward improving an offense that declined from outstanding in 2007 to merely good in 2008, and is counting on too many older players to be certain of 2009 production. Rather than signing Burnett, the Yankees could have grabbed Mark Teixeira, or likely any two of Adam Dunn, Pat Burrell or Milton Bradley. All four players are Burnett’s age or younger, and all four, to varying degrees, address New York’s biggest problem with Sabathia in the fold: offensive upside.
The Yankees had a very good offense last year and almost every player on their team either struggled with injuries or had a down year. And how could they sign 2 of Dunn, Burrell, and Bradley? Where would they play? You don’t just sign offense; those players have to have a position. The Yankees need defense more than they need offense and none of those players provide any.
The move also probably closes the door on opportunities for New York’s prized pitching prospects Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, and the underrated Alfredo Aceves. The Yankees, who seemed determined a season ago to build around those pitchers, will be left without a rotation spot once Pettitte re-signs. Either those pitchers waste away in AAA, or New York will turn to them once Burnett gets injured, and pay $16 million for the privilege of watching their young pitchers perform. Given Burnett’s fragility, New York can’t very well deal the young pitchers for offense—the backup plan is needed.
So in the same article, you argue that there will be no opportunities for Hughes, Kennedy, and Aceves but the Yankees shouldn’t trade them because they’ll be needed? Look, all three of those guys could use some triple-A starts. How can you call Aceves “underrated”? Remember how good Ian Kennedy look in limited time in 2007? A couple of starts in late August and September doesn’t make you a reliable starter. I’m glad the Yankees have Aceves, but let’s not immediately throw him to the dogs.
However you slice it, those 3 guys aren’t ready to toss 200 innings yet, but they’ll get their chance. When was the last time a team went through an entire season with every starter making all their starts? If Hughes makes 10-15 starts in the minors and around the same number in the big leagues, that’s a good ratio for his development.
The week was an epic one for the Yankees. In C.C. Sabathia, the team undid the mistakes of the recent past which saw them pass on elite players Johan Santana and Carlos Beltran to fill positional needs. But A.J. Burnett seems to be a return to the unsuccessful late-1980s New York model, of overpaying veterans whose success is questionable at best.
Hindsight is 20/20. And the Yankees didn’t “pass” on Santana. They passed on trading away prospects AND paying… eh, ya know what, forget it. You’re right; the Twins said “we’d like to give you Santana for free” and Santana said “I will play for the Yankees for the league minimum” and Cashman still said no. About time someone called him out for it.