For almost any player, getting traded from the mighty New York Yankees to the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates seems like a cruel and unusual fate. That fate is exactly what befell A.J. Burnett this past weekend as the Yankees were so eager to rid themselves of him, that they paid the Pirates to take them off their hands. In many ways, it is the low point of Burnett’s career, but it also might be the best thing to ever happen to him.
Not only does Burnett’s life improve because he now gets to pay Pittsburgh, rather than New York City, real estate prizes but he should also be on the verge of a bounce back season. How do we know this? Because that is what happens to failed Yankee starting pitching acquisitions after they are kicked to the curb.
Don’t believe me? Just ask Kenny Rogers. His two-year stay in the Bronx was a borderline disaster. He didn’t like it there and nobody there liked him. He finally got his walking papers in 1999 and proceeded to post a 3.17 ERA, 5.9 fWAR, 16-win season for the Athletics. He had some ups and downs after that, but save for that cameraman he roughed up, few downs were as bad as what he experienced as a Yankee. If Burnett can post those kind of numbers in Pittsburgh, the Pirates would be thrilled and they may even offer him up a sacrificial cameraman to slap around if they have to.
Years later, Jeff Weaver would walk almost the exact same path as Rogers. After one and a half season of utterly failing at being the Yankees’ new young gun starter, Weaver and his 5.99 ERA in 2003 were gladly sent packing all the way across the country to the Dodgers. Weaver never made good on the promise he had when he arrived in the Big Apple, but he did put together two yeoman like seasons for the Dodgers before he fell apart. Still, that is two more seasons than the Yankees got and it sets a nice target for Burnett to hit in Pittsburgh.
Speaking of Weaver, he was traded for former All-Star winner Kevin Brown. Brown flopped so badly with the Yanks that they sent him packing to, all the way into retirement. This is not an example Burnett is hoping to emulate.
With Weaver gone, the Yankees were in the market for another young stud arm to bolster their rotation, so they turned to Javier Vazquez who was coming off a career season for a team in Canada (sound familiar, A.J.?). Vazquez made the All-Star team, but did so with a 4.91 ERA. The Boss was not impressed and Vazquez was eagerly returned to the National League from whence he came. He was marginally better with the D’Backs the next season and went on to have multiple 200+ strikeout seasons from then on. His highlight was in 2009 when he finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting. That season was so impressive that the Yankees forgot about their previous bad experience with Javy and they reacquired him in 2010. Silly rabbits. Vazquez was so bad in 2010 that he ended up in the bullpen by season’s end with a 5.32 ERA and yet another pink slip. And, just like last time, Vazquez bounced back they next season with a quality swan song to his career for the Marlins. The lesson here, Burnett, is no matter how well things go with the Bucs, don’t give in to the temptation to go crawling back to the Yanks. You’ll only get hurt again.
The poster boy of the disastrous Yankee pitcher acquisitions has to be Carl Pavano whose Yankee career will be remembered solely for the extensive amount of time he spent on the disabled list with an injured gluteal muscle. When his Yankee career came to a merciful end, Pavano never lived up to his potential, but at least he pitched a lot. After logging just 145.2 innings of work in his three-year sentence for the Bombers, Pavano went on to throw 199.1 innings the very next year followed by a season of 221 IP and then 222. He even found a way to win 17 games with a 3.75 ERA in 2010. See, A.J.? If Pavano can do it, there is no reason you can’t?
Last and certainly not least, we examine the case of the Big Unit. Yes, the once dominant Randy Johnson, a pitcher George Steinbrenner had lusted after for years and years. Randy did not prove to be the ace he once was (these things happen when you are over 40 years old). Coming off a 5.00 ERA in 2006, the Yanks shipped him back to Arizona where he posted two straight seasons with an ERA under 4.00, though it was injury-riddled. The point here is that no matter how old you are or how good you once were, leaving the Yankees is almsot always good for the pitcher.
Rest easy, Mr. Burnett. Your career is about to get new life. Plus, you can afford to buy all the pierogi you can eat! Two birds, one stone, my friend.