“We could have had it all
Rolling in the deep
You had my heart inside your hand
And you played it
To the beat”
– Lyrics to “Rolling In The Deep” by Adele
It is ironic that on the same weekend Adele was the recipient of six Grammys based largely on her single “Rolliong In The Deep” that the “broken-hearted” Yankees are trying so desperately to part ways with a right-handed pitcher who has repeatedly disappointed them.
Allan James Burnett has been both at the epicenter of the Yankees’ success the past three seasons and he also has been part of the team’s struggles to get to their 28th world championship. There have been lots of good times: The second game of the World Series against the Phillies, the games in which Burnett appeared to be a father tossing nasty breaking pitches to mere kids flailing at air and, of course, those walk-off victory pies he delivered to the face of the game’s hero.
Then there was the games in which bad luck seem to attach itself to Bunrett like a stubborn barnacle on a proud fishing vessel. Things would unravel at a moment’s notice. Two dominating strikeouts would be followed by a walk, a wild pitch, a bunt single, a double in the gap, a stolen base, another wild pitch and then a home run.
That was what fans termed “Bad A.J.” It was used as a term to differentiate from the dominating pitcher the Yankees thought they signed to a five-year, $82 million free-agent contract in 2009 after he was 18-10 with a 4.07 ERA with the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Yankees tolerated a bit of “Bad A.J.” in 2009 because he was 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA in a season the Yankees won a championship. Burnett, along with ace CC Sabathia and left-hander Andy Pettitte were a huge reason why the Yankees blitzed through the Twins, Angels and outplayed the Phillies in six games to win the 2009 World Series.
Since then, the Yankees have failed to make it back to the World Series. The starting pitching was targeted as a huge reason why. And, unfortunately for Burnett, he was being trotted out by the prosecution as Exhibit A, whether it was true or not. He was underperforming for a pitcher making the kind of money he was being paid.
Burnett was 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA in 2010. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild was hired for the 2011 season with the expressed No. 1 task of “fixing” A.J.
Rothshild tinkered and toiled with A.J. without completely changing his style as a strikeout pitcher with a career strikeout rate of 8.2 per inning. Early it seemed to be paying dividends. Besides that old nemesis Jorge Posada, who Burnett seemed to lay a lot of his troubles upon, was not catching anymore.
However, by the end of the 2011 season, Burnett was 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA. For all the tinkering Burnett seemed to be right back where he was in 2010.
Then came the whispers that Burnett later confirmed as true. Burnett at age 35 was losing velocity on his fastball. That allowed hitters to get a bit more comfortable in the box on him. Pitches that hitters used to wave at were now getting hit solidly. Burnett told reporters he would have to learn to pitch inside more.
General manager Brian Cashman had to look at all this with a bit of sadness. It was, after all, Cashman’s idea to sign Burnett to that five-year deal. But Cashman had to admit that if the Yankees were to compete in the hitting-rich American League East they needed to improve the Yankees’ rotation in 2012.
The Rays advanced to the playoffs largely on the basis of their pitching. The Red Sox, despite their swoon in 2011, still have Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. The Blue Jays have lefty Ricky Romero and righty Brandon Morrow. The Orioles have . . . well they have nice looking uniforms for their pitchers.
So Cashman moved this winter to acquire right-hander Michael Pineda, who was 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA as a rookie for the offensively weak Seattle Mariners. He then signed free agent Hiroki Kuroda, who was 13-16 with a 3.07 ERA for the Dodgers. Those moves left Burnett out in the cold. He was now expected to compete this spring with 25-year-old Phil Hughes and 35-year-old Freddy Garcia for the No. 5 spot.
Cashman said at the time that he “had not given up on Burnett.”
But after an ugly incident in a game against the Twins on Aug. 20 at Target Field in which Burnett was removed in the second inning after having been hammered for seven runs on five hits and three walks pretty much sealed his fate with the Yankees. As Burnett left the mound he turned and the cameras caught him saying, “This is bulls—” to manager Joe Girardi. Girardi claimed not to have heard it.
But Burnett later compounded it by walking directly into the clubhouse. Girardi, who has a rule that starters may not leave the dugout until the runners they left on score or the inning is over, went straight into the clubhouse and ordered Burnett back into the dugout. The angry Burnett did return but he quickly left immediately as a reliever allowed Bunrett’s seventh and final run to score.
A.J. finally burned a big bridge and it is the reason the Yankees are trying so hard to unload the two years and $33 million left on his contract.
Yep, Adele is right. We could have had it all, A.J.
But now Burnett needs to go. The Yankees know it. The fans know it. Now even Burnett’s agent knows it.
“He is getting ready to go to spring training, whether it’s with the Yankees, Pittsburgh or anyone else,” his agent, Darek Braunecker, told the New York Daily News. “A.J. understands this is a business and will do what he has to do. He’s healthy and he’s looking forward to pitching for somebody.”
Today the Yankees made it clear to the Pittsburgh Pirates that they will not accept just a portion of the $33 million left on Burnett’s contract. They want prospects also.
Marc Carig of the Newark Star-Ledger reported on Monday that the Yankees are willing to assume a large portion of the money Burnett is owed as a condition of the trade. But they also refuse to move Burnett unless they receive players back in the deal, a person close to the negotiations said.
“(The Yankees) have to get players back,” the person with knowledge said on Sunday. “Not a give away.”
So the teams are locked into talks concerning the players the Yankees should receive as well as how much money the Pirates are willing to contribute to Burnett’s salary.
According to various sources, the Yankees have had discussions about Burnett with four teams, including the Pirates. One of the teams is on Burnett’s no-trade list of 10 teams. Reportedly that team likely will not be part of a deal because Burnett would invoke his no-trade clause to block it.
The Pirates, Carig reported, remain the frontrunners. Though the teams are still talking it appears no deal is imminent.
Meanwhile, Yankee fans have heir fingers crossed that some sort of accommodation between the Yankees and Pirates can be reached. They are ready to turn the page on Burnett and they want Cashman to sign a free-agent DH because the team needs some salary room in order to do that.
With Burnett gone and Pirates helping pay some of that contract the Yankees possibly could afford to sign a Johnny Damon or a Hideki Matsui.
Then all those memories of “Bad A.J.” will fade slowly away.