When the Yankees signed A.J. Burnett signed this winter, this blog, along with a whole slew of writer/pundits called it a bonehead signing. A panic move. A blunder. I was so against the signing, I wrote "Sounds like the Bronx missed Carl Pavano so much they signed his replacement."
The famous blog, WasWatching.com wrote back when the Yankees signed Burnett: "Yeah, that Brian Cashman, he’s the Yankees savior! It takes a keen baseball mind to throw $80 million dollars at A.J. Burnett to solve your pitching problems. Then again, compared to throwing $140+ million at a 290-pound pitcher, this might actually only be slightly crazy. But, it’s still crazy…nonetheless."
The Pinstriped Bible wrote back in December: "Indeed, little old New York was the only place where a pitcher with Burnett's history of injury and inconsistency would have netted a guaranteed five-year contract....In his most recent season, his ERA was above average but unimpressive at 4.07, a figure which breaks down to a 4.96 ERA in the first half of the season and 2.86 in the second half. Thus, the Yankees have agreed to pony up $82.5 million based in large part on the last 94.1 innings of Burnett's career."
NJ.com wrote this earlier this year: "Given his near-perennial struggles to stay healthy and the fact that he hasn't been as good as people seem to think he's been when he has pitched, an expensive 5-year deal seems really misguided."
Even the esteemed Mike Silva of New York Baseball Digest wrote that "With all things being equal, two years for Sheets is far better than five years for Burnett," and that "A.J. is going down and Cashman will look like a fool."
And it wasn't just the blogosphere that sounded dubious on the Burnett signing—the mainstream media thought it was just the spend-drunk Yankees being the Yankees. Rob Neyer of ESPN wrote this last December 15th: "He's not reliable, and the Yankees have pretty obviously overpaid. Too many dollars, too many years."
Cliff Corocan of Sports Illustrated was less kind: "The Yankees emerged from the winter meetings as the big winners having landed CC Sabathia, the biggest fish (literally and figuratively) in the free-agent pond. Just a day later, they've spoiled the broth by signing A.J. Burnett to a ludicrous contract completely out of synch with his past performance or future projection. While signing Sabathia was a no-brainer for a team that can afford his record-breaking contract, signing Burnett was unnecessary and betrays a worrisome lack of self-awareness on the part of the Yankees....they got carried away and gave Burnett a contract they're almost sure to regret, possibly as soon as the All-Star break (Carl Pavano didn't make it that far in 2005)."
Even the hometown newspapers gained up on Burnett. "Over the course of the next five years, the Yankees will pay upwards of $80 million to A.J. Burnett—that's more than $16 million a year for a guy who's never had an ERA under 3.44 and who has made more than 30 starts only twice. The fact is, there were better options on the market than five years and such steep salary (non-issue for the Yankees though that may be) for Burnett....The real measure of dealing with pressure, if there is one, is in legitimate big games—the type of which Burnett has only seen as a spectator. He was hurt in April 2003 and missed the Marlins' championship run, and has never pitched a game for a contending team that had to have a win or else."
Well, for myself, and for all the above people, I would like to humbly say this: "A.J. I'm sorry. Really, really sorry."
Because you see, right now, A.J. Burnett is the Yankee's ace. Yeah, Sabathia is pitching well, but A.J. is the ace.
And no one, myself included, thought he'd be this good—either because he was too susceptible to injury, or too much of an emotional headcase.
Even his former Blue Jay manager John Gibbons wondered to the press if the ofttimes emotional Burnett could survive in the media-drenched Big Apple.
Well, Burnett is not only surviving, he's thriving. Like David Cone, once upon a time, Burnett seems to thrive in Yankee Stadium. So much so, he's pitching much better in the home run a-palooza that is the New Yankee Stadium (3.30 ERA) than when he's away (4.09 ERA). When the pressure is on—2 outs, RISP—Burnett is pitching a .190 BAA. Both of those stats are better than Sabathia's.
Since June 9th, when he had a bad outing against the Red Sox and decided to be more aggressive, Burnett has had 9 quality starts out of ten. He has a 2.31 ERA in those 10 starts—including 7 innings of 1-hit ball against the Red Sox this Friday, and 7 innings of 2-hit ball against the Rays on July 27th.
Unlike what everyone said last winter, Burnett seems to be thriving where so many others—Kevin Brown, Randy Johnson, etc—wilted: In the big, hot spotlight of Yankee Stadium. He has been attacking the zone with his fastball and knocking them out with his breaking pitch. in short, everything we could have asked for.
So once again, I say, "Sorry, A.J." Seriously. And that whole calling you "Carl Pavano" thing...well that was just uncalled for. Really.