Monday, January 9, 2012

Oh, AJ. What do we do with you?

Burch's post got me thinking...

The Yankees have made it clear recently that they care about spending. Gone are the days when they would buy all the best talent available, or at least try to. If George were still running things then there's a good chance that CJ Wilson would be a Yankee, Prince Fielder would be the new DH, and Jesus Montero would be down in AAA again next season thinking "what the hell?" But instead the Yanks are tighter with the dollar (a good thing, in my opinion), so we didn't bring in Wilson (nor Buehrle or Darvish), Jesus Montero will be the full-time DH, and the minor league system is not being seen as an after-thought or just outright ignored. I won't go as far as to believe they're going to get under the $189 million threshold for the Luxury Tax in 2014, but they aren't going to simply write-off $16.5 million either.

So to go along with Burch's post I'm going to give you the four things the Yankees could do with him, and give you my thoughts on each.

1. Send him to the minors.

I don't totally understand Major League Baseball rules, but I'm fairly certain that this is not really an option. I believe he'd have to pass through waivers before being sent down, and he wouldn't make it through because any team that picks him up would only have to pay him the league minimum of $480,000, while the Yankees would be on the hook for the remaining $16,020,000. Seeing that the Yankees care about money these days I don't see this happening.

2. Release him.

Well the whole money thing mentioned in the last option can be copied and pasted right here. This is essentially the same thing, only in this case AJ couldn't possibly end up in the Yankees minor league system.

3. Send him to the bullpen.

This seems to be the most liked option by those I've spoken with. They believe the team should just hide him in the bullpen, and only dust him off for mop-up duty after the game is already out of hand. It's funny, when I first wrote that sentence I thought, "well there won't be as many blow-outs for the guy doing mop-up duty with Burnett not starting", but it turns out that last season the Yankees lost more games by a difference of 3 or more runs with CC Sabathia on the mound than with AJ out there (6 to 5). But anyway... I don't think this is the best way to try and get the most value out of Burnett. Is it what's best for the team? Yeah, possibly. I mean, there's no obvious guy to take that rotation spot from AJ. I'd guess that guy would be Hector Noesi, but there's no way of knowing for sure that Hector would fare any better than AJ did. So if there's no certainty of an upgrade, then why bother? Especially when AJ was at least still worth $6.7 million, and the vast majority of that value came from his innings pitched (190.1). Hell, with Soriano, Robertson, and Rivera, Burnett would be lucky to throw more than 50 innings out of the bullpen. So that value would plummet. Don't believe me? David Robertson's value was $2.8 million, and I don't think a mop-up reliever would get anywhere near the same number that David got.

So can the Yankees do something with AJ Burnett that will at least get them some value, while not hurting their chances of winning? Well, I think so, which brings me to the fourth and final option...

4. Keep him in the rotation.

In 2010 Burnett's ERA+ was 82, and despite that ineffectiveness being there all season long, the Yankees still finished with the 2nd best record in the American League (1 game behind Tampa Bay). And last season his ERA+ was 86, and the Yankees finished with the best record in the American League. Part of that is because the Yanks got lucky that Boston collapsed like they did last season, but a big part of that is that the Yankee offense is just that powerful. If we had an offense like they do in Seattle then I'd be thinking "oh God, we can not let this guy pitch if we want to win". But since this is New York, then I can say "you know what, he may suck, but thank God we can still win due to a great offense".

Is there a chance the Yankees *gasp* miss the playoffs due to Burnett starting another 33 games? Sure. Especially if Phil Hughes can't turn things around and we have to lean on a kid like Noesi like we did with Ivan Nova last season. I'm certainly not guaranteeing that either the offense or Boston's poor play will bail out the team again, but it doesn't seem right to dismiss that as a possiblity since it's happened the last two years. But whatever, if I'm in charge AJ Burnett would start the season in the starting rotation. If things aren't looking good after the first month or two, then make a change. But I've seen teams that can win in spite of AJ's poor pitching, and I 100% believe the only value AJ has right now is eating innings, so let's give it a try.

What Can You Do With AJ Burnett?

Its almost the middle of January and nothing is happening in Yankee land but speculation, outrageous trade rumors(hopes), and fantasy baseball team prepping. Its hard to believe that guys like Prince Fielder & Ryan Madson are still available. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately,  none of them are coming to the Yankees so we as a fan base seem to have nothing better to do then to bash Brian Cashman or bash Joe Girardi or bash players like Alex Rodriguez and AJ Burnett, to name a few. Alex Rodriguez has a full no trade clause and some outrageous hundred million dollar number worth of a contract left but AJ Burnett is intriguing when it comes to trade rumors.

The Yankees have come out and said that they are actively shopping AJ Burnett, not without good reason. The Yankees have even openly states that they are willing to eat up to 8 million dollar per season that AJ Burnett is contracted to move him. After watching Theo Epstein eat all but 2.5 million of Carlos Zambrano's hefty 18 million dollar contract it got me thinking what can we actually do with AJ Burnett? First of all Carlos Zambrano has only one year left on his contract where AJ Burnett has two seasons left under contract at 16.5 million dollar annually.

Carlos Zambrano has had emotional outbreak after emotional outbreak whether it be screaming at an umpire, screaming at opposing players, or beating up his own catcher. Not to mention all the water coolers that were harmed in making this story... He has also been injured in the past few seasons and even was banished to the bullpen for a short stint while in Chicago. Oh how could I forget how he walked out on his team and threatened retirement? AJ has not had emotional outbreaks that we , the fans, have seen.  AJ has not been seen screaming at players, umpires, managers, etc. AJ has not been in a fight if you believe his clubhouse black eye story. AJ has not missed a start, has not had an injury, and has not been banished to the bullpen.. and yet the Yankees will still NOT be trading AJ Burnett this offseason.

Realistically AJ Burnett has probably been the worst pitcher in all of baseball in the last 2 seasons. Out of 94 pitchers who qualified for being in stat leader contention only 2 pitchers posted a WORSE ERA then AJ Burnett last season, Fausto Carmona and Brad Penny. In 2010 AJ finished 90th out of 92 qualifying pitchers thus making him the ONLY pitcher to finish in the bottom 10 in BOTH seasons. AJ Burnett has ranked 13th among those same pitchers with a 7.19 runs per game run support... and the Yankees are still under .500 in his starts. He is not just eating innings anymore and he is not doing just enough to keep us in a game anymore he is making himself a real liability. Granted he is basically a 5th starter on this team but the problem is he is not being used as a #5, he is being used more like a #3. A #5 starter does not make a start in the postseason, period, especially with the playoffs on the line.

Let's be realistic here though and lets say, or even assume, that the Yankees are not going to be able to trade AJ Burnett. Someone MIGHT want to take a chance on a one year rental and a change a scenery but NO ONE is going to take AJ Burnett for 2 seasons even if it is at 8.5 million dollars annually. So what are the options for the Yankees?

1. Continue to pitch him
- This is the most ideal situation in my opinion.

2. Move him to the bullpen
- He already throws the most wild pitches of any pitcher basically ever. Imagine if he had to come in with runners on base...

3. Designate Him For Assignment (DFA)
- He wouldnt clear waivers because SOMEONE would pay for his prorated league minimum salary and let the Yankees be on the hook for the other 16+ million dollars for 2 seasons.

4. Pray to the baseball gods for Tommy John surgery
- Ok this one was a joke... seriously.

5. Eat most or all of his salary and get very little to nothing for him
- Why pay someone 16 million dollars AND a replacement player, even at league minimum, to do what AJ Burnett can do all by himself? For the sake of making a move? Seems pointless.

No one is going to argue that a AAA player in our system right now could duplicate or even improve on AJ Burnett's stats this season. Guys like Adam Warren, David Phelps, DJ Mitchell, Manny Banuelos, & Dellin Betances to name a few. It goes back to the fact that why would we pay AJ Burnett 16.5 million plus, for simplicity sake, pay one of these guys 500K to pitch and waste 17 million dollars to get what we could get for 16.5 million? Not to mention that if it is not Phelps or Betances that gets the call we have to make a 40 man and 25 man roster move.

For every Barry Zito and Kei Igawa that has been paid way too much money to rot in the bullpen, be left off playoff rosters, sent to AAA to set all time wins records and be the shameful talk of the town there has been 10 times as many Carl Pavano's and Hideki Irabu's and Jason Giambi's and Jorge Posada's that are left to painfully play every day (when healthy) and not even come close to getting true value out of their contracts. It just doesnt happen and it just doesnt make sense in most cases.

So what do we do with AJ Burnett? Nothing... Throw him every 5th day, let him average his 5.94 IP per game, let him make his 33-35 starts a season, let him go over a 5 point ERA and totally implode in August, win 90+ games again, win the AL East again, and worry about it next year.