"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

A.J. Stands for Awful Judgment

There are so many things to dislike about A.J. Burnett and his new Yankee contract that I don’t know where to start. I suppose I’ll start with in the cheapest, easiest place, with a comparison of Burnett and Carl Pavano at the moments at which they signed their big Yankee contracts:

A.J. Burnett Carl Pavano
Age 32 29
ML Seasons 10 7
Seasons w/ 30 GS 2 2
Seasons w/ 200 IP 3 2
IP last 3 yrs 524 2/3 559 1/3
Contract Term 5 yrs 4 yrs
Age at end of contract 36 32
Average annual salary $16.5M $9.9875M

There’s no question that A.J. Burnett has better stuff that Carl Pavano. There’s also no question that Carl Pavano’s contract was a smarter, better investment at the time it was signed than Burnett’s is today. None. Pavano arrived in New York off not one, but two consecutive 200-inning seasons (Burnett managed just 165 2/3 innings in 2007), was three years younger, signed for one year less (making him a whopping four years younger in the final year of his deal), and the average annual salary of Pavano’s deal was 40 percent lower than that of Burnett’s.

Oh, and here’s another little nugget, the two pitchers’ career K/BB rates entering their Yankee contracts:

Pavano: 2.28
Burnett: 2.25

One could argue that the comparison between these two pitchers isn’t entirely fair. Pavano’s performance (or lack thereof) during the length of his contract was an extreme case that is extremely unlikely to be repeated, even by a pitcher with Burnett’s sketchy history. At the same time, the Pavano contract was widely panned upon it’s signing, long before anyone knew just how badly things would go, and I think it’s clear that this Burnett contract is an even worse move. It may not be entirely fair, but it is extremely informative, if for no other reason than it’s illustration of the fact that Brian Cashman, a general manager I have long defended in this space, did not learn from one of the biggest mistakes of his career.


1 Raf   ~  Dec 12, 2008 6:17 pm

No, it appears that he hasn't.

I guess on the bright side, we'll be looking at 15-20 starts, which is pretty much what Darrell Rasner did last season.

Don't like it, don't like it at all. Was John Smoltz not available? With the supposed embarrassment of riches (young pitching) in the system, I do not understand why Burnett is signed for 5 years? Is there an incentive clause somewhere? An opt-out?

2 tommyl   ~  Dec 12, 2008 6:20 pm

You know, I was a big Cashman defender a few months back. With this signing I am officially jumping off that bandwagon. This is a horrible, putrid, awful move. Its remeniscient of the Pavano and Wright moves. Its knee-jerk and shows a total lack of:

1. The ability to assess the teams needs
2. The ability to assess the organizational strengths and weaknesses of the overall system including the farm
3. A complete lack of creativity
4. A failure to learn from past mistakes
and most importantly, a COMPLETE LACK of any actual long term team building strategy. Last year it was "Oh, we need to build from within, signing big money players hampers roster flexibility and we're too old!" This year its "Well we tried that for about 2 months and it didn't work, soooo...lets go buy pitchers!"

We're the ADD organization. This team is not going to be all that good next year, or in years to come. Simply awful.

3 slim   ~  Dec 12, 2008 6:21 pm

From today's post:

" Cashman was expected to deliver the following message to Pettitte:

We have signed CC Sabathia. We are about to sign A.J. Burnett. We already have Chien-Ming Wang Chien-Ming Wang and Joba Chamberlain Joba Chamberlain .

So that leaves just one rotation spot - and it's time you take our contract offer or we're prepared to fill that spot with someone else and close the door on you."

[italics are as found in post story]

Did Cashman actually say this to Pettite? It sure makes it seem that way. But later the article states Cashman is trying to show "organizational love" or something to Pettite in order to woo him. So that's doubtful.

Also AJ Burnett may be the last nail in Cashman's coffin. Very risky move. I hope it pays off, but I'm not too optimistic. I much rather would've had Lowe except the Yanks' defense kinda stinks. Oh well. It'll be interesting at least.

4 tommyl   ~  Dec 12, 2008 6:22 pm

To add a bit more, notice how the Red Sox seem to have an actual coherent strategy. Its not just sign all the all stars from last year or whatever, instead its look at team weaknesses, strengths and address them using the huge financial clout they have while keeping the system fed through the farm. Argh. Now they will sign Tex and kick the shit out of us next year.

5 Mattpat11   ~  Dec 12, 2008 6:26 pm

I will say one thing. When AJ Burnett actually gets his ass on the mound, he's not a bad pitcher. Enormously overrated yes, bad, no.

Carl Pavano was a bad pitcher that never actually pitched coming off a career year. Signing Carl Pavano represented Brian Cashman failing on almost every level, from failing to properly judge a player's injury rate to falsely assigning him talent based on one good year. There was absolutely zero reason to offer Carl Pavano a contract. In that sense, Pavano was a worse deal.

However, the AJ Burnett deal suggests that Cashman is either too proud, stubborn or frankly, stupid to learn anything from the worst acquisition in the history of the franchise. In that sense, not only is the Burnett deal worse, but horribly depressing.

6 Mattpat11   ~  Dec 12, 2008 6:31 pm


I've been screamed at for a couple years here for suggesting that Cashman doesn't actually have a "plan." If I weren't so depressed, I'd feel vindicated.

7 zack   ~  Dec 12, 2008 6:35 pm

now wait a minute tommyl,
if the Sox sign Tex for 7 years, do they still have a strategy?

The undeniable thing is that the Yankees should have signed Tex or should still sign him or Dunn. Its hard to argue that this team doesn't need offense in a bad way and that pitching depth in the minors is what they have in buckets.

But I don't buy the knee-jerk, lack of plan line. Do I dislike Burnett and the contract? Yup, sure do. But just remember that in two seasons, the Yankees will ONLY have CC and Burnett under contract.

To me, what this signing says is that Cashman both realizes and was probably told that rebuilding simply isn't possible. The plan is thus to slowly allow the farm to filter in. Burnett allows that, both by providing an anchor of some sorts, and of course by always getting hurt and needed a sub. But seriously, this allows the Yankees to leave Joba at the back of the rotation this year, and Hughes next year. By 2011, You have CC, Joba, Hughes, Burnett and then another kid like McAllister or Brackman. By 2012, in theory, Burnett is your #5, and while overpaid, thats a pretty good #5.

I just don't see the reason to get so worked up. As I said in the last thread, I simply don't see this signing as preventing anything.

8 Mattpat11   ~  Dec 12, 2008 6:40 pm


I think betting the season on AJ Burnett could prevent a world championship. Does that count?

9 tommyl   ~  Dec 12, 2008 6:41 pm

[7] Zack, I'm sorry but that's just wrong. Burnett for five years does not do any of that. If the idea was to let the farm filter in than you go after Pettitte harder than you have and Ben Sheets. Those are one and two year deals. Burnett will still be under contract when he's 36 years old! As for who is still under contract in two years, well Joba will still be around. So will the twenty kids we have in the minors (except now we'll trade all of them for crap). The reason signing Tex was a good idea is that he's a superstar in his prime and this team has ONE upper level position prospect. There is no one else coming for years down the line. Now we have an injury prone pitcher and no offensive help whatsoever. This is quickly going to become a 750 run team. Remember, last year the Blue Jays had the best pitching in baseball and it got them to fourth place.

10 zack   ~  Dec 12, 2008 6:42 pm

Who said anything about betting the season on Burnett? I wouldn't count on him for anything. But I also wouldn't count on Sheets or Hughes for anything either.

11 zack   ~  Dec 12, 2008 6:49 pm

[9] Again, I am completely in agreement on Tex. I have argued that before. The team should have signed him instead of AJ. But they STILL should. Or Dunn.

But Ben Sheets is even more of a walking gurney than Burnett.And trading away young pitching doesn't have to be a bad thing, if done right. And Cashman has definitely shown to be a pretty good trading GM.

I think Burnett for 5 years sucks. But its not catastrophic, and could be a good thing. As I said above, I think relying on Sheets and Hughes etc is not the best thing.

12 Mattpat11   ~  Dec 12, 2008 6:52 pm


I consider this to be the Yankees betting that AJ will be an ace. They've largely ignored offensive needs to spend a ton on a pitcher. If he fails, like he always does, we're in big trouble.

13 tommyl   ~  Dec 12, 2008 6:53 pm

[11] Cashman is hit or miss as a trading GM. For every Bobby Abreu there's a trash from Randy Johnson in there.

The whole point of Sheets is that you plug him for 1 or 2 years. If he gets hurt, than Hughes/Aceves/IPK are still around to back him up. AJ on the other hand is going to be hurt for part or all of FIVE years, and he's really not that good to begin with. Its going to be like watching Kyle Farnsworth as a starter. Great stuff, too bad he walks the park and gets hit around. Maybe he's got a good uppercut though.

14 zack   ~  Dec 12, 2008 7:00 pm

[13] Um, are you referring to trading FOR or AWAY Johnson? Because the first wasn't really Cashman, and the second wasn't really a bad trade.

As for the rest, I think you are overreacting. Burnett has good stuff, really good stuff. And when he is healthy, he's a good pitcher. The key is staying healthy, which everyone knows is the problem. But Farnsworth? come on, not a good comp.

5 years is too many years, but the Yankees have shown that they are willing to add on extra money and an extra year to get who they want. The 5th year is really not going to make a difference.

Either you are against Burnett period, no matter the years, or you're not, I think. He's either going to be hurt a lot and not live up to his contract, or he'll be hurt less and provide pretty good #s for the Yanks.

But Burnett is not going to prevent Phil Hughes from pitching for the Yankees. He may prevent Aceves/IPK, but I'm not sold on either of them. He may prevent McAllister from reaching the majors as soon as he is ready, but he might not.

15 Bum Rush   ~  Dec 12, 2008 7:17 pm

@ 4

I call BS right there. They have four clear weakness going into next year:

1. Catcher
2. Shortstop
3. Centerfield
4. Bullpen

The only moves they'll make is getting some crappy, cheap bullpen help while they sit on three more youngsters (Ellsbury, Lowrie, Kottaras). Then they'll play the "We're not the Yankees" card if another team outbids them for Teixeira (who they don't really need) and for why they don't try to re-sign Varitek (who they don't really want). And their fans won't see they're still paying the highest ticket prices but the team failed to spend at all.

16 The Hawk   ~  Dec 12, 2008 7:20 pm

I'm not really convinced at all by Burnett, aside from the fact that whenever I've seen him pitch - which is to say against the Yankees - he has been nasty, nasty, nasty. But obviously the overall numbers aren't where you'd expect with a contract of this size. On the other hand, I think any comparison to Pavano is inaccurate.

First of all the result of the Pavano deal was anomalous: He is one of the most infamous signings in recent years in the MLB. Plus his attitude was called into question which made it that much more irritating.

Secondly, conventional wisdom at the time was that Pavano was a pretty safe bet and a solid signing. Etc etc.

Again, I'm not saying I agree with this deal, particularly having dude hang around for five years, but it seems to me some people are really overreacting. He may end up being a disaster, but a Pavano-sized disaster is pretty rare. Oh and as for Wright, I don't know of anyone who thought that was a good idea.

I think ultimately though, the difference with Burnett for me is at his best, he is frigging awesome. Neither of those two yahoos had that going for them. I think the Yanks are kind of wishing upon a star, but whatever. You know, after three years when Sabathia's gone, we may all end up being glad they got Burnett, if he somehow lives up to this contract.

17 zack   ~  Dec 12, 2008 7:20 pm

I am stealing this from RAB, but Cliff, Keith Law disagrees with you:

Keith Law: Not even close. Pavano in the NL in his only two healthy years, right before signing with the Yanks: 423 IP, 272 K’s, 35 HR allowed. That’s in a big ballpark, facing opposing pitchers to boost his K total. Burnett, in the AL East, in a slight hitters’ park, last two years: 387 IP, 407 Ks, 42 HR. You can’t make a performance argument that he’s like Pavano. You can’t make a health argument that he’s like Pavano (who was hurt in some part of every year until his sixth season). You definitely can’t make a stuff argument that he’s like Pavano. That’s a completely unfair tag to place on Burnett.

18 The Hawk   ~  Dec 12, 2008 7:22 pm

[13] Randy Johnson and deals of that sort I always ascribed to George. Getting past-their-prime former greats, etc. Not defending Cashman but I think that's a George thing. Trading for a 40 year old pitcher, jesus h christ almighty ...

19 Bum Rush   ~  Dec 12, 2008 7:30 pm

In the happy news dept., Burnett does really well in AL East ballparks:

Fenway P: 22.2 IP; 0.40 ERA
Tropicana: 54.2 IP; 2.30 ERA
Sky Dome: 262.1 IP; 3.77 ERA
Yankee St: 25 IP; 2.88 ERA
Camden Y: 25.1IP; 3.91 ERA

20 Just Fair   ~  Dec 12, 2008 7:31 pm

Wow. This is the first I've heard. Let the Carol"ing" begin. I was hoping AJ would wind up in Atlanta, but now that he's here, all I can say is "Welcome aboard you ornery looking pr#$%." I've only seen him pitch vs. the Yanks and he certainly has some filthy, dominating stuff. I will blindly support this deal until he gets hurt which will be in 2 months? April? June? Who knows? Until then, he's not holding any other pitchers back. I still got to think, believe, hope that Cashman has one more trick up his sleeve.

21 Joseph   ~  Dec 12, 2008 7:31 pm

"Combined with the new Stadium, it is enough for me to question my allegiance to this team."

Hey Cliff, come in off the ledge will ya? BTW, a true fan sticks with his team through good times and bad. I'm just guessing, but I take it this is a bad time for you? Heh.

I was kind of hoping for Tex and a couple of cheaper pitching options, but it is what it is. And I can remember A.J. mowing down the Red Sox and Yanks last year with lights out stuff ( 5-0 with a 2.56 ERA against the Sox in 8 career starts). Toronto wanted badly to keep him, and they ought to know, and the Braves wanted him to top their rotation. I'm well aware of his injury history, but I'm hoping for the best.

Call me crazy, but a rotation of C.C., a hopefully over his foot problem Wang, a Burnett like he pitched last year, a healthy Joba, and Andy/Hughes, whoever, has got me excited. These signings should help fill out those seats and boxes in the New Yankee Stadium also. Yeah, that offense is a ? to some extent, but there are teams that have won with a lot less, and the potential is there if things go well.

Meanwhile, we still have the young pitching, which has to be a plus considering what Santana or Peavy would have cost in prospects. This now gives the youngsters time to develop, instead of being rushed like Phil and Kennedy were last year.

Anyway, I'll probably get hammered for my take on this, but I'm being positive at this point in time.

22 Simone   ~  Dec 12, 2008 9:11 pm

I don't think that this signing is so bad. The Yankees need pitchers and Burnett is okay.

Now they need to get Texeira.

23 mehmattski   ~  Dec 12, 2008 9:26 pm

I don't think there's enough money left to get Tex. What a stupid, unnecessary, expensive signing.

2006: 135.7 IP, 3.98 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 7.83 K/9, 2.59 BB/9-- 115 ERA+
2007: 165.2 IP, 3.75 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 9.56 K/9, 3.58 BB/9-- 119 ERA+
2008: 221.3 IP, 4.07 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 9.40 K/9, 3.50 BB/9-- 107 ERA+

Add to that the worst line drive rate of Burnett's career in 2008. And now he's 32 years old. The dude is rarely ever ready to pitch a full season, his stats are on the decline, and we just signed him to a five(!!!) year contract. Wonderful.

Also, next years' offense is going to score like 750 runs. Signing every pitcher on the planet is not going to help with that.

24 williamnyy23   ~  Dec 12, 2008 11:56 pm

I posted this on Alex's follow-up, but I'll add it here to provide some balance. With all due respect, I think many of the detractors are getting too emotional with their analysis, mostly because of the Carl Pavano experience. Comparing Burnett to Pavano, though, exposes the irrationalness of some of the points being made.

Anyway, here is my take:

While many analysts that I respect (like Goldman and Cliff) have lined up to point out the injury history of Burnett, I fall more in the camp of Keith Law, who has focused more on Burnett’s overwhelming talent. Guys with a high 90s fastball and a killer curve don’t go on trees. If the Yankees could ever harness Burnett, they would have a dominant force.
Now, I am not going to be naive and suggest that Burnett will all of sudden be a picture of perfect health. Having said that, I think Cliff, et al. are exaggerating his injury history. This is not a Carl Pavano case. Over the past 4 years, Burnett has started 32, 21, 25 and 34 games. Quite frankly, I would sign up for that now. Because the Yankees now have starting rotation depth, they can easily survive Burnett missing 25 starts over the next four season. Besides, the Yankees are not simply building a contender, but a potential World Champion, and guys like Burnett make big impacts in October. It’s worth noting that while with the Jays, Burnett’s ERA in September was 2.92 with 130 Ks in 123 IP. How nice would it be to have Burnett carrying that performance into the playoffs?
Another point of contention I have with Cliff’s analysis is his assertion that Burnett is excess because the Yankees have so much pitching depth. While I am very high on Chamberlain and Hughes, I also realize that they have severe innings limits and can really only be viewed as one starter. That leaves an open slot and I simply do not think IPK or Aceves is the answer. What’s more, the likes of McAllister, Bleich, Betances and Heredia are several years away (and certainly can not be projected to be effective major league starters just yet). To suggest that the Yankees don’t need another effective starter because someone from this crop might eventually emerge seems a little naive to me. And, even if this really is such a great crop of pitchers, why can’t one or two be packaged for a good offensive player?
Another argument that I think is fallacious is the one that suggests the Yankees are abandoning youth and bucking the trend of relying on players in their prime, as was advanced by Verducci. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. If the Yankees allow Chamberlain and Hughes to get their innings this season, they both will have slots in the 2010 rotation when Pettitte presumably retires. How many other players would have three under-30 home grown starters in their rotation?
While the Yankees lack of younger position players is a concern, you don’t solve that problem by neglecting the pitching staff. In fact, bolstering your pitching staff (especially with arms that rely less on your aging defense) helps take pressure off the offense. While I agree Tex seems to fit like a glove, I think Matt Holliday would be even better. I firmly believe that the Yankees are looking at Tex as an alternative to Holliday and may prefer the latter, especially as the Yankees will have no outfielders under contract in 2010.
One final note…everyone’s darling, the Rays, won the AL pennant with an OPS+ of 99 and an ERA+ of 116. Last year, the Yankees had an OPS+ of 101 and ERA+ of 104. If the Yankees can move their ERA+ closer to 110 and get the OPS+ back up to 105, why can’t be a winning combination. Personally, I think the Yankee offense, as constituted, can perform at the level, so maybe adding another bat is not the necessity some think (and more like adding AJ Burnett to the staff)?

25 Rich   ~  Dec 13, 2008 12:03 am

I would have been fine signing AJ for three years, but five is absurd.

That said, I think this offseason demonstrates that Cashman no longer has decision making authority. IMO, he gives the Steinbrenners his best advice, but they are calling the shots. The reason I believe this is that I just don't think that Cashman has done a complete 180 on roster construction philosophy from last few years to this one.

That said, he has entered into this situation with his eyes wide open, so these moves, for better or worse, are imputed to him.

Meanwhile, the offense sucks and trading for Cameron will only making it worse.

26 williamnyy23   ~  Dec 13, 2008 12:58 am

[25] If you are ok with three years, then does that mean you will start disliking the deal in 2012? Also, if you are in favor of a 10 year deal for Tex, will you like it when he is 36, 37 and 38? Some perspective is needed.

Your point about Cashman changing course is also off. In 2008, Cashman was willing to go with a rotation with a 39-year old Moose, 36-year old Andy and two kids. In 2009, he has a 28-year old CC, a 32-year old AJ and Joba (with Hughes waiting in the wings as an injury replacement and ready to step in in 2010). How exactly is that a change in philosophy? The only odd man out is IPK, and I happen to think he deserved his demotion.

Finally, adding an above average defensive CF'er (according to UZR) who had a 110 OPS+ does not make the offense works. Because he is replacing Melky's 68 OPS+, he actually makes it much better.

I am floored by the lack of rationality being used to analyze this deal.

27 Rich   ~  Dec 13, 2008 1:54 am

[26] No, it means that from a cost/benefit perspective, I think the cost outweighs the benefit, so I would have passed on the deal. As for Tex, I would be willing to give him 8 years. The reason I prefer Tex to AJ is that the Yankees' offense only scored 789 runs last season, and that was with Abreu and Giambi. Given Matsui and Posada's age and injury situation, and the fact that Damon and Nady's respective OPS+ was significantly higher than their average OPS+, it is not inconceivable that the 2009 Yankee offense could be at least as unproductive as the 2008 version, or perhaps even worse.

In 2008, Cash was willing to rely on a rotation composed of three kids: Joba, Hughes, Kennedy. In part, that reliance was a consequence of his decision not to pursue Santana, because at least according to media reports, he would have had to surrender both Hughes and Kennedy in any prospective trade (unless Wang was included instead). Consequently, even though 2008 proved yet again that the development of pitching prospects isn't necessarily linear, I think it's reasonable to believe that a commitment to a youth movement in the rotation requires that a GM adheres to that plan irrespective of those bumps in the road. Cash (or his bosses) has apparently chosen not to do that, which I think can be fairly viewed as a change in philosophy.

That you are unable to see that indicates that the lack of rationality and intellectual clarity belongs to you

Not too long ago, Cash publicly stated that the reason that he was developing kids is that he didn't want to go into the FA market to acquire veteran starters given the concomitant costs and risks.

It should be noted that with CC as part of the rotation, a commitment to youth would be easier to endure..

As for Cameron, take a look at his 2007/2008 splits:

v. L:

2007: .294/.404/.510
2008: .282/.397/.555

v. R:

2007: .222/.316/.413
2008: .231/.309/.452

Given that the majority of starters are RH, those splits demonstrate that for most of Cameron's ABs, he will have a very tough time getting on base.

You are viewing Melky's stats in a very skewed way, but I guess when one intends to reach a conclusion and then find a rationale for it, strange things happen.

Granted, Melky's 2008 OPS+ was 68, but his 2007 OPS+ was 89 and his 2006 OPS+ was 95. For a large portion of 2007, his OPS was around .800.

Let's also keep in mind that Melky is 24 and has a chance to get better. Cameron will be 36 in January and will quite possibly get worse.

I am floored by how myopic your analysis is, and iit doesn't even contemplate that Gardner may be able to make a positive contribution, or that another CFer could be acquired who earns far less than the $10 million that Cameron will make in 2009, which underscores the main point: $10 million could be better spent.

Instead you focused solely on Melky, perhaps because you are only able to rebut straw man arguments.

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