At the end of 2008 it was a somewhat somber time for New York Yankees fans. The disappointment of missing the playoffs for the first time in over a decade had left the Yankees in the unfamiliar position of feeling a little hopeless and lost in direction.
Their farm system was just getting back on track to being respectable after years of trades to bring in big name guys, bloated contracts and last ditch bandaids to perhaps boost them through the Playoffs.
Manager Joe Girardi wore #27 as a pseudo pledge to Yankee fans to get World Championship number 27 for the franchise. And in that offseason, the Yankees aggressively rebuilt a rotation and a franchise with 3 Free Agent signings; CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and Aj Burnett.
It seemed to be a safe bet with the pickup of Aj Burnett. Burnett, who went 18-10 with a 4.07 ERA in 35 starts with Toronto that season won 10 of his last 12 decisions. He set also career highs in wins, strikeouts (231) and innings (221 1/3).
Against the AL East Division is where Burnett’s perceived “value” came in to play. Burnett was impressive posting a record of 20-5 and an 3.29 ERA against New York’s divisional opponents in Tampa Bay, Boston, Baltimore and Toronto.
A number 2 behind the ace CC Sabathia, Burnett seemed to be in the perfect position to thrive without the pressure an ace would have.
And Burnett, for the first 2 months of his first season, seemed to deliver. But as the 2009 season wore on Burnett at times seemed to struggle. Burnett went a respectable 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA. Although the Yankees won the World Series, Burnett only had one very good playoff game , in the World Series, which made fans overlook any signs of trouble.
Im 2010, Burnett once again started off strong but faded after several weeks. But this time he crashed hard and fast. Burnett seemed to lose his confidence and control on the mound. Although he still showed great stuff Burnett looked easily rattled and overly sensitive. Burnett would consistently meltdown on the mound giving up runs in streaks just as often as he would send his catcher chasing a wild pitch the backstop.
The Yankees again made it deep in the playoffs but met a hot-hitting talented Rangers squad who would eventually eliminate the Yankees from the playoffs. Burnett finished the 2010 season with a record of 10-15 and an ERA of 5.26.
In the offseason we learned of Burnett’s horrible divorce that seemed to have a major impact on his psyche throughout the season. This could very easily explain why Burnett lacked confidence and consistency.
The Yankees also parted ways with pitching coach Dave Eiland who at times seemed to clash with Burnett and had trouble getting hold of the right hander.
In came respected and renowned pitching coach Larry Rothschild from the Chicago Cubs. Rothschild has a tremendous reputation and was heralded for many years as one of the best pitching coaches in the Majors.
But even Rothschild could not fix Burnett. This season would be yet a further spiraling of the once promising career of Aj Burnett.
Burnett once again showed that under pressure he won’t just break, he will crumble and crumble fast. But unlike last year where Burnett would try to labor through and maybe at times show a frustrated sigh as he hit his glove, he showed a different reaction. Burnett at times looked detached and even seemed to be more angry and expressive.
That was not more evident than last week when Burnett, after giving up 4 runs in less than 2 innings against the Minnesota Twins, was quickly pulled from the game by Girardi
Burnett has finally completely fallen off. In his past two starts (including his game against the Twins) Burnett has only last 6.2 innings giving up 16 runs and posting a horrible 21.60 ERA. Burnett wasn’t just bad, he was historically bad.
His latest reaction, his horrible performance and no light at the end of the tunnel sugges that it’s time for the Yankees to get rid of Aj Burnett. Last month they waived Burnett but no team picked him up. Maybe it’s time to sit him down and put your focus on fixing Phil Hughes who has more upside than Burnett. And a far better attitude.
I was hoping Burnett would turn it around. I was hoping he would be know in baseball as the #2 started in a powerful Yankee rotation. Instead, Burnett is known as the guy on the Yankees who throws pies in the face of any teammate who delivered a walkoff winning hit.
We all cheered for Burnett to be known as the comeback player in 2011 who bounced back from a hard 2010 and returned to form or perhaps came back better. Instead, we got a more defeated, detached and volatile Burnett who showed more digress than progress.
In 2008 the Yankees agreed to a 5 year $82.5 million dollar contract. In August of 2011 the New York Yankees have to agree to let Aj Burnett walk out of the organization and continue what’s left of his career out of pinstripes.
The Yankees need to reward players like Ivan Nova with the confidence of a solid spot in the rotation, not in a limbo spot behind a pitcher who can barely escape the 3rd inning without giving up 4 runs or more.
And the Yankees owe it to their fans to stop making us endure another outing from Burnett, stop making any small positive Burnett shows into some statement of his growth and progression. Stop lying to us.
Even if Burnett does end up regaining any of his form or realizing his full potential we all know it can’t and won’t happen in pinstripes. This bridge is burned and we can’t wipe the slate clean. So let’s not tell ourselves otherwise while we still have a team with a good shot at a few more World Series titles.
It’s time to consider this experiment a failed one and cut our losses now.
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