When the team signed A.J. Burnett in December of 2008, it knew it was getting a right-handed pitcher who had remarkable “stuff.” The Yankees also knew they were getting a guy with a spotty history when it comes to consistency.
With a high-90s fastball and an absolutely devastating curveball, Burnett earned himself a five-year, $82.5 million contract from the Yankees, which came after a career year with the Blue Jays in 2008 (18-10, 4.07 ERA, 231 SO). Since then, he’s given the Yankees 20 wins, but he’s given them just as many headaches.
He was 10-4 with a 3.53 ERA through July 2009, but he went 0-4 in August with a 6.03 ERA. He turned things around in September, pitched well enough in his first postseason (except for that little hiccup in Game 5 of the World Series) and the Yankees won the World Series. Any imperfection with Burnett was overshadowed by the world championship.
All remained sunshine and rainbows in the world of Burnett and the Yankees until the end of this May. On May 30, Burnett was 6-2 with a 3.28 ERA, averaging better than six innings pitched per start. Since then, he’s 1-6 with an 8.15 ERA in eight starts, averaging fewer than five innings per start. The stretch was capped off with the miserable two-inning outing against the Rays on Saturday, after which he punched some immovable objects and hurt his hands.
Burnett may not miss any time with his self-inflicted hand injuries, but that may not be a good thing for the Yankees.
At this point, the Yankees can’t be expecting too much out of Burnett. Every player goes through some down periods, but with Burnett, it will be extraordinarily difficult for him to regain his confidence and become an average starter — let alone one of the best in the game. Earning back the fans’ confidence will be even harder.
The future could be just as bad. Burnett is 33 years old and he’s won more than 13 games exactly once in his career. Should there be any reason for optimism for Burnett in New York over the next three-plus seasons? Probably not. The bigger question is whether it will matter.
The Yankees are defending World Series champions, they’re 58-33 and in first place in the AL East. Phil Hughes is a beacon of light for the future of the rotation, CC Sabathia has been as good as expected and the team is just fine.
But Burnett might not be. The Yankees have wasted money before, and it will be up to Burnett whether he wants to go down in history alongside the likes of Kevin Brown and Carl Pavano or if he wants to turn his career around and be a positive contributor for a perennial championship contender.
Will A.J. Burnett ever live up to his $82 million contract with the Yankees?survey software