Tuesday, September 13, 2011

AJ Ain't the First Mistake

In the midst of a mini-series I am doing on notable MLB rookies, I am inspired - once again - to do a follow up to something that John wrote. In his latest blog he lambasted the Yankees for acquiring and using the sporadically effective A.J. Burnett. I remember Bob McCown, Toronto's most respected radio sports personality, chastising the Blue Jays when they signed Burnett a few years back. McCown said, quite rightly, that Burnett is at best a .500 pitcher, and therefore not worth big bucks or perhaps even a spot in a team's rotation.

I completely agree with McCown and even with John (for once). The Yankees should never have signed him. In their starting rotation Burnett should be behind CC Sabathia, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, D.J. Mitchell (from their AAA club), Joba Chamberlain when he comes back from Tommy John surgery next year, Whitey Ford, and Spud Chandler. In other words BURNETT SHOULD NOT BE IN THEIR STARTING ROTATION! Just look at his numbers compared to the rest of the Yankee starters. Even the Yankees don't score enough runs to get that guy wins.

As a Yankee fan I have been repeatedly dumbfounded as to why they continue to acquire and pay huge salaries to semi-talented, briefly successful pitchers. They have done much better of late (Sabathia, Colon, and Garcia) but Burnett reminds us that they can still be stupid. And it is a long history of stupidity. Let me take you back to some of the Yankee front office's brilliant decisions. Yankee haters will enjoy being reminded of these idiotic acquisitions.

In his first nine seasons Ed Whitson had pitched for five teams. Does that tell you something? In 1984 he helped the San Diego Padres to a World Series championship. Steibrenner saw him throw a gem against the Cubs in the playoffs, but neglected the fact that Whitson didn't make it out of the first inning (5 hits, 3 runs) in his only start against the Tigers in the World Series. Whitson had gone 14 - 8 in the regular season - not bad, but...

The year before he was 5 -7 (with a 4.30 ERA.) and that made his career won-lost record an unimpressive 39 -48. No wonder the Yankees gave him $4.4 million! That was big money in those days. Whitson was never comfortable in New York. Eventually he refused to pitch at Yankee Stadium because he was booed so badly. With terrific run support he made it to 10-8 (with a 4.88 ERA) and then he tanked. He went 5-7 the rest of the way and his ERA his next - and thankfully- final year in New York was a tidy 7.54.

No way the Yanks would repeat that mistake. Think not? Four years later they signed Andy Hawkins from the Padres for more big money. How'd he do? His ERA's with the Yanks paralleled Whitson's - 4.80 and 5.37. Great.

In 1995 the Yankees signed Kenny Rogers for $20 million (over 4 years). He won 12 of his first 15 that year, but like Whitson his ERA was over 4.50. And his second year he looked a lot like Andy Hawkins (a 5.65 ERA) and he won only six. He constantly complained and easy-going Joe Torre said he was one of the most difficult players he'd ever managed. Fortunately the Yanks were able to trade Rogers to Oakland (by paying them his salary) for Scott Brosius, who was a big part of three World Series Championships.

In 2001 the Bronx Bombers gave a 22 million contract to Atlanta Brave reliever Steve Karsay. That was a lot for a reliever who'd had only one or two good seasons. He was solid in 78 games his first year in New York but pitched only eight times over the next three years due to elbow and shoulder problems before being released.

Allow me to throw a trade in among these wretched free agent signings. The Yankees did throw in money into after all. At end of the 2003 season Dodger Kevin Brown had almost 200 wins under his belt. He was a horse and he was coming off a 14-9, 2.39, 185 strikeout season. But, he was 38 years old. The Dodgers, who got troubled Jeff Weaver in exchange for him, were somewhat glad to be rid of him. He was often injured and he had a bad temper. (Once, while he was having a shower a teammate flushed the toilet. Brown destroyed the toilet with a bat.) And, Brown was rumored (later confirmed) to be using performance-enhancing drugs along with teammate ace reliever Eric Gagne.

In his first year with the Yankees Brown was 10-3 with a 3.96 ERA though he had tailed off by the time he gave up three runs in six innings to the Orioles on September 3. After being lifted Brown took his frustrations out by punching the dugout wall, breaking a bone in his hand. Even Joe Torre got upset about that stunt. Brown ended up having to apologize to his teammates for letting them down during the pennant race.

He came back and pitched - and lost - two games at the end of the season and then pitched well in the '04 ALDS, allowing the Twins one run in six innings. But against the Red Sox in the ALCS in under two innings he allowed five runs, two on a home run by the hated David Ortiz. He was sidelined by injuries the next year and finished 4-7 with a 6.50 ERA.

Jaret Wright had a history of injuries and had won as many as 12 games only twice. But like Karsay he was coming of a good season with the Atlanta Braves so in 2004 the Yankees gave him a $21 million contract. He was never asked to be the ace in New York (in spite of all that money) but he was still awful, running up a monstrous 6.08 ERA his first year and he was relegated to the bullpen the next year, where he spent most of his time on the DL. Brian Cashman shipped him to Baltimore in 2006 for next to nothing. He retired a year later at the age of 31.

In 2005 the Yankees gave a $22 million contract to reliever Kyle Farnsworth of the ... you guessed it ... Atlanta Braves. He'd saved ten games the year before. He would save six the next year and just one over his last two years with the Yanks.

But Farnsworth was not their biggest new star in 2005. After their collapse to the Red Sox the year before they badly needed starting pitching. They signed Randy Johnston three years after his glorious 3-0 World Series with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The aging Big Unit went 17 -8 and 17 - 11 in his two years in New York but his ERA the second year was 5.00.

But their really big acquisition was - a name that makes the Yankee faithful cringe - Carl Pavano. He had a great fastball and a good slider but he was 39 - 50 in his first seven seasons. So what? He'd held the Yankees to a single run in nine innings in the 2003 Series and he was 18-8 for the Marlins in 2004. So the Yanks handed him $40 million.

In four years in New York he won just nine games, perhaps due to his 5.00+ ERA. He was constantly injured - or claimed to be - and missed the entire '06 season. To be fair though, when Pavano was healthy, he was still no good. After complaining he had been mistreated in New York he left as a free agent and somehow regained his health, winning 31 games over the next two years.

The Yanks were again in desperation mode in 2007 and Roger Clement and his agent took full advantage - $28 million for one year. He gave up a lot more runs than he had for Boston or Toronto but he was still 77-38 for the Bombers so they didn't do too badly that time.

But that same year they committed $46 million to a young Japanese phenom named Kei Igawa. In 16 major league appearances before 2008 (none since) his ERA was 6.66. His contract finally ends this year. Again, money well spent.

Okay, one more trade - ANOTHER guy coming off a single good season with the Braves. The Yankees gave up Melky Cabrera for Javier Vasquez. He was another Burnett - a .500 (142 - 139) pitcher. Sure he was 15-10, 2.87 in 2009 but his career ERA was over 4.00. Heck, it was 4.91 the previous time he'd spent with the Yankees. At the end of that year (2004) Vasquez gave up a grand slam and a two-run homer to Johnny Damon in game seven of the ALCS. Why not get him back! How did Vasquez do last year? How about 10-10, 5.32 and 32 home runs allowed in 31 games.

So you see, there were a lot of disasters before A.J. Burnett, he's just the last in a proud Yankee history of free agent stinkers. Apologies to Yankee fans for digging up memories of those train wrecks.

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