AJ Burnett drove Yankee fans, including me, crazy after he was signed to that huge $82 million free agent contract in December of 2008. From the very beginning of his stay in the Bronx, he proved to be an inconsistent basket case for New York on the mound. In his first Yankee start against arch-rival Boston, he blew a big lead and then the very next time he faced the Red Sox eight weeks later, he got knocked out in the third inning. The inconsistency lasted all season long but his teammates seemed to love the guy (with the possible exception of Jorge Posada) and I have to admit that those whipped cream pies sort of grew on me. Still, a 13-9 record and an ERA over 4.00 no way justified a $16.5 million paycheck.
He then pitched well in his first two 2009 postseason starts but when he gave up those four runs in the first inning of his second start in the Angels series, I was ready to never forgive him. But I did. You want to know why?
I had a choice to attend the first or second game of the 2009 World Series. My work schedule was such that it would be best for me to go to the second game but I knew Burnett was scheduled to pitch and I was worried he would implode and ruin my night. When the Phillies beat Sabathia in Game One, I was even more nervous about Burnett’s composure because, in my opinion, Game Two would be the most important game the Yankees played all year. When my wife and I took our seats in the left-field terrace level of the new Stadium that evening, I honestly thought that with Burnett pitching, there was a good chance New York would be heading to Philly for the third game down 2-0. Instead, I got to watch AJ Burnett earn every penny of that $16.5 million salary and when I left my seat after that game, I knew the Yankees were going to win their 27th World Championship.
But after Burnett pitched that gem against the Phillies, New York has not been back to the World Series since. Burnett’s second and third regular seasons in pinstripes were both disasters and his ERA in both years climbed into the five’s. It went from not knowing what to expect when AJ took the mound to expecting the worst, from having a great shot at getting a win to praying the team didn’t lose. And just when I was about to write him off forever and never watch another game in which he started, he shows up and did and throws a gem of a game against Detroit in the fourth game of the 2011 ALDS.
I was ready to give AJ one more chance to convince me he was worth rooting for in 2012, but the Yankee front office was not. In February of 2013, Brian Cashman traded the tattooed hurler to the Pittsburgh Pirates for two minor leaguers Yankee fans will probably never see play and an agreement to pay nineteen million dollars worth of AJ’s remaining $33 million salary. Naturally, AJ turns around and puts together a near-brilliant 16-10 season for the Bucs in 2012 and a not-too-shabby 10-win season in 2013 and helped lead a young, inexperienced Pirate team back into postseason play.
|FLA (7 yrs)||49||50||.495||3.73||134||131||0||14||8||0||853.2||719||395||354||66||377||753||1.284|
|NYY (3 yrs)||34||35||.493||4.79||99||98||0||2||0||0||584.0||587||332||311||81||258||513||1.447|
|TOR (3 yrs)||38||26||.594||3.94||81||80||1||5||1||0||522.2||480||250||229||56||191||525||1.284|
|PIT (2 yrs)||26||21||.553||3.41||61||61||0||2||1||0||393.1||354||165||149||29||129||389||1.228|