Yankees could get burned by A.J.
The winter meetings in Las Vegas may have ended, but the Yankees are still busy. Two days after landing the free agent market's
There are two reasons for that. First, Sabathia's deal comes with an opt-out clause in which the hurler can forego the final four years of his contract and re-enter the market. While the fine print of his deal hasn't been reported, and while many view the presence of the clause as
Second, and of more relevance performance-wise, Sabathia has proven himself to be a durable workhorse during his eight big league seasons, reaching the level of 30 starts seven times, never throwing less than 180 1/3 innings, and making only one trip to the disabled list, that due to a groin strain in 2006. Burnett, on the other hand, has reached 30 starts just twice in 10 seasons -- both times prior to entering the market as a free agent -- and has topped 180 innings just three times. He's got a long history of arm problems, one that includes Tommy John surgery in 2003 and more than four months on the DL in 2006 and 2007, the former for elbow pain caused by the breakup of scar tissue from his surgery, and the latter for a shoulder strain. Both times, he came off the DL for less than a week before returning, furthering the perception that he was unwilling to pitch through any discomfort. Burnett "has often needed reassurance that he's healthy,"
Burnett's combination of fragility and perceived squeamishness calls to mind the darkest chapter of Yankee GM
To be fair, Burnett is a good pitcher when healthy. Though he had never won more than 12 games prior to last season -- a function of his lack of availability and the occasionally meager offensive support he had received -- his ERAs have been 13 percent better than the park-adjusted league average over the past four years, which
Burnett's strikeout rate over those four years, 8.89 per nine innings, is even better, ranking third among that group behind Cy Young winners
Furthermore, strikeouts decrease a pitcher's reliance on his defense, and since the Yankees were one of the majors' least efficient teams in the field,
Surprisingly, they did finish in the top three in strikeout rate in '08, despite a revolving-door staff that saw 13 pitchers make at least one start, and endured season-ending injuries to
The signing leaves the Yankees committed to four starters: Sabathia, Burnett, Wang and Chamberlain. Reports earlier this week suggested they remained interested in a one-year, $10 million deal for Pettitte and might even be interested in a multiyear deal with free agent
That pair didn't win a single game between them in '08 while combining for a 7.45 ERA in 17 starts and dealing with injuries, and because of that, both pitchers' stock has fallen considerably. Regarding the former, once considered among the game's top pitching prospects,
With Burnett, even moreso than Sabathia, the Yankees had best make sure they cultivate adequate rotation depth behind him. Now that he's not pitching for a contract, it might only be a matter of time before Burnett winds up on the trainer's table or the disabled list, rekindling uncomfortable memories of fragile free agents past.