Saturday February 11th 2012
MLB reports – Jonathan Hacohen: I have been working on this note to Mr. Cashman that I wanted to share with you today. Partially because I haven’t really been working on this note for very long. Also, I never actually planned to send it to the Yankees GM. From the sounds of his current state of affairs, Brian has his hands full and probably would not have much time to read my message. But considering the marriage of the New York Yankees and A.J. Burnett, I think a resolution is needed. Immediately. My solution? Let’s read the letter and find out:
February 11, 2012
New York Yankees
Attention: Brian Cashman
General Manager/Senior Vice-President
Dear Mr. Cashman,
Re: Time to Trade A.J. Burnett
As you can tell from my message header, I am writing to you today on a very specific topic. The status of one of your starting pitchers, Allan James Burnett. Or better to known to friends, family and the baseball community as “A.J.”. Brian, I will not beat around the bush and get right to it. I have heard the rumblings. They are all over town. Every part of the world- where they are talking baseball, they are also talking about the trade. I heard it all during this offseason. The Marlins. Orioles. White Sox. Nationals. Padres. Every team with some sort of opening, starting sniffing around A.J. and his availability apparently. But for a team in need of pitching depth, the apparent answer was no. Fine. I can respect your need to have plans and back-up plans. Smart baseball. But recent moves have changed that need.
Yankees fans cried all offseason for you to acquire two more starting pitchers at the top of your rotation. But the team was silent. You re-signed Freddy Garcia, but otherwise there was no movement. Heck, even Bartolo Colon still remained available. With the New Year upon us and spring training approaching, people didn’t know what to think. Then you did it. In one big swoop, you changed the game. Hiroki Kuroda? Yankees. Michael Pineda? Yankees. Two very strong starters to fill in your 2012 rotation. Kuroda bringing a veteran prescence to take over the #2 or 3 slot. Pineda, the new future ace of the Bombers. The cost? A few million dollars and Montero essentially. A great prospect bat. Possible slugging champion and future All-Star catcher. The money was negligible and Montero a luxury on a squad hurting for young quality pitching. You made the moves and I applauded. The Yankees went from a question mark to serious contender again overnight. Problem solved.
But are you finished? Not quite. Now with Spring Training approaching, you have one of those good problems to have. Too many starting pitchers available. A great problem to have actually. Let’s review the top-4 starters in your rotation: C.C. Sabathia, Kuroda, Ivan Nova and Pineda. You don’t have to pencil them in…you can write them in permanent marker. Those 4 guys are givens. With that being said, you now have 1 open spot to fill only. Looking at the roster, there is quite a few names that could be thrown into the mix. Phil Hughes. Freddy Garcia. Dellin Betances. Joba Chamberlain. A.J. Burnett. Assuming you don’t sign any further pitchers or find any surprises during the spring, those are 5 pitchers alone possibly competing for 1 spot. Too many in my book. Sometimes excess can lead to problems.
Your main considerations should be the present and future. Both could be filled by Phil Hughes. Considering that he has been around forever, the fact remains that he is only 25. He’s a big boy, 6’5″ 240lbs. You thought highly enough of him once upon a time, that you refused to include Hughes in a Johan swap. 4 years ago, he won you 18 games. Since then, he has been up-and-down. Many considerations, I can appreciate that. But ask yourself this: do I really want to trade a potential superstar at his lowest value point? I don’t think so. Hughes isn’t done, he still has potential. You have 4 top pitchers to fill in the rotation. So we know what you need to do. Throw in Hughes as your #5 and see what happens. You may end up getting the 18-game winner back. Or, at worse, he moves to the pen and gives you a strong late-inning arm. Either way, you have to explore what you have with Hughes. He needs to start.
Assuming Hughes doesn’t work in the rotation, does it really matter? In the playoffs, you only need 3…maybe 4 starters at a time. You have those locked up right now. Even if injuries or poor performances creep in, you have other options. Freddy could jump in and provide depth and veteran innings in the rotation. He did well last year, so maybe you can catch lightning in a bottle again. Or perhaps Betances explodes and pulls a Nova-type performance in 2012. Maybe Joba comes back a new man and slots in the rotation in the 2nd half? Anything is possible. But the point is that you have options. Strong options. Great options. Kuroda and Pineda have breathed new life into your rotation and team.
Which brings us to the subject of our letter today. A.J. Burnett. By my watch and calculations, in this game of Yankees musical chairs- A.J. will be left without a chair. That is a sad but true reality. I realize the investment. 5-year deal, $82.5 million. Still $33 million left for 2 more seasons. There is an expression though Brian: “You don’t throw good money after bad.” A.J. has been a member of the Yankees for 3 seasons. 2009 was a fairly good one for him: 13-9, 4.04 ERA and 1.401 WHIP. Good, but by no means a great year. Fast-forward 2 years and the numbers deteriorated. ERAs of 5.26 and 5.15. WHIPs of 1.511 and 1.434. But there’s more. It doesn’t get better. Last year, A.J. threw a league leading 25 wild pitches. He gave up 31 home runs. 83 walks allowed. Oh Brian, it just keeps getting worse and worse. These are not the numbers of a #5 Yankees starter. These are the numbers of a player heading back to AAA or AA. Let’s forget the money for now. On numbers alone, you would never let a player like this anywhere near your team roster.
So now you are faced with a decision. Do you throw $33 more million into the pot and hope to recover some type of return? Or do you cut your losses and move forward? A big decision and one that you are certainly struggling with right now. My thoughts are that you apparently have the chance to cover this money. The Pirates are apparently interested in taking on $10 million if you move A.J. to Pittsburgh. If I were running the team, I would be filling out the paperwork. If you could have anywhere from $10-$15 million covered, grab it. Even at $10 million, you would still be spending $23 million instead of $33. Personally, I would rather pay A.J. $23 million not to pitch on my team, rather than $33 million to stay. Those that do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. A.J. Burnett is 35-years old this year. He has a career 4.10 ERA. 1.332 WHIP. Perhaps you could live with those numbers, but not the 5.00+ ERA and 1.400+ WHIP you have seen over the last 2 seasons. The man allows close to a hit per inning and 3.8 walks per 9. These are not Yankees types numbers. So why are you doing this yourself and your team?
One thing that I want to make clear Brian is that I am not an A.J.-Basher. Sure, he is not my “favorite” pitcher in the world. But that is based on his numbers more than anything else. There is another component though that springs to my mind which cements this decision. Let’s take this scenario. Let’s say you bring A.J. to camp and he does not win a rotation spot. Will A.J. Burnett in the bullpen be happy? What is the chance that he could perhaps voice his displeasure to the media and in the locker room? Do you want to take that chance. Reputation-wise, that is a high risk that you cannot afford. For a team that needs to take a no-nonsense approach and working towards one thing and one thing only (World Series title), the room for error is minimal. There is no looking back Brian. There is no point to review the merits of having signed A.J. in the first place. The contract is done and there is no changing that. But now you can make the decision how to set your roster go-forward and give your team the best chance of winning. You and I both know that is sans A.J. Burnett. You have the pieces. You have a ton of talent to compliment your top starters. You need to play Hughes. You need to see what Betances and Chamberlain can do. Garcia is great insurance and in the worst case, you go out and get an arm at the deadline.
There is always a risk in everything that we do. But in this case, moving A.J. carries a greater benefit that risk. He may go out and become a winner again in his new home. But he likely would not do that in New York, as a change of scenery is likely in order. It is time to move on Brian. You have the chance to move on. Put that ad on contractbusters.com. Get another GM to take over your A.J. contract payments. Sign the papers and move forward. The last title was in 2009. We know that the World Series is the goal for 2012, as it is every season. You made the big moves by getting Kuroda and Pineda. Now you need to finish the job. You know what you need to do. Just perhaps you needed that one little extra push.
Best of luck in 2012 and if you ever need another Vice-President or top baseball executive, you know where to reach me.
Jonathan Hacohen is the Lead Baseball Columnist & Editor for MLB reports: You can follow Jonathan on Twitter (@JHacohen)
Please e-mail us at: MLBreports@gmail.com with any questions and feedback. You can follow us on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook . To subscribe to our website and have the daily Reports sent directly to your inbox , click here and follow the link at the top of our homepage.