After almost two decades of living in the baseball wilderness, the Pittsburgh Pirates are on the verge of becoming a steady contender in Major League Baseball. In Andrew McCutchen, they have one of the premier Centerfielders in the game. Neil Walker and Joel Hanrahan are two of the of best players at their respective positions. While they may not be playoff-bound in 2012, the Bucs should give contending teams plenty of fits. One of those players who would love to create havoc on opposing hitters is the newly acquired A.J. Burnett.
The story of Burnett, particularly the last three seasons has been scrutinized ad nauseam. Big arm, great stuff and questionable mental makeup and durability have all been terms used to describe him. He had his best season in 2008, just in time to exercise an opt-out clause in his Toronto Blue Jays contract worth 5 years and $55 million dollars when it was signed. At the time, he had two years remaining on his deal. So before the 2009 season, the New York Yankees gave him a 5 year, $82.5 million dollar contract. His career stats to that point were 87 wins and 76 losses with an ERA of 3.92. To award that contract to Burnett even though his stuff at times was electric was crazy. Besides the less than impressive win-loss record and average ERA, there was some durability concerns as he pitched more than 200 innings only three times in his ten seasons and the fact his own worst enemy most times was himself. In short, there was no way his performance was going to match his contract.
I do not like dislike A.J. Burnett. In fact, I like the guy a lot. If you include the playoffs, he started over 100 games for the Yankees in his three seasons in New York. He put to rest any concerns over his dependability. In the 2009 World Series, with the Yankees down a game, he pitched seven innings of one run ball to right the Bronx Bombers ship on their way to winning the Series. His final game in the Bronx was an important win in Game Four of the 2011 ALDS. Sure the overall numbers weren’t great. But the Yankees should have known better than to throw all of that money at Burnett knowing the pitfalls. And the so-called knowledgeable New York fans should have known that his contract was grossly out of line with his past performance. They should have booed the organization for that, not Burnett.
I really hope the A.J. Burnett is happy in Pittsburgh. I would love to see him duplicate his 2008 season of 18 wins and 10 losses and help the Pirates to their first winning season in 20 years. Perhaps if you still don’t like him, maybe this story courtesy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette will change your mind. Here is to you, A.J. The Pittsburgh fans will appreciate you more than New York fans ever did.
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