A.J. Burnett was traded from the New York Yankees prior to the 2012 season to the Pittsburgh Pirates. After helping the team win the World Series in 2009, he had an ERA over 5 in both 2010 and 2011. He had a resurgence in Pittsburgh, most recently finishing with a 3.30 ERA, over 200 strikeouts, and a WHIP just over 1.2. With Burnett being a 35-year old free agent, and the Yankees needing a starting pitcher – could the Yankees actually consider bringing Burnett back to the Bronx?
Let’s forget about how the fans feel about Burnett for a minute. Statistically speaking, Burnett is a historically unpredictable pitcher. Possibly the best evidence of that is his no hitter with 9 walks back in 2001. He has had shades of brilliance, often followed by moments unfit of a major league pitcher. In short, every year, every start, every inning, every pitch is a complete mystery with Burnett.
For a pitcher on the wrong side of 35, Burnett still has great velocity on his fastball. Last season his fastball sat around 93 MPH and he touched as high as 96 on a few occasions. Also, he had his highest K/9 rate of his career (9.8). Lastly, he has started at least 30 games for the last 6 seasons.
Will Yankee fans welcome Burnett back? In short, as long as he pitches the way he did last year. He was shipped out of town after not living up to his contract. On the other hand, he was a large part of the Yankees winning the World Series in 2009. In my extremely unscientific survey, I asked two Yankee fans their opinion and the responses were, “I think he’s a much better option than Garza/Jimenez/Santana, he’s a better pitcher…Unfortunately his name is AJ Burnett” and “Eeesh..I mean we could do worse. I don’t want to go near Matt Garza for example.” Like I suspected, there is an uneasy confidence about Burnett that has Yankees fans cautiously hopeful.
Burnett still has not decided if he will pitch in 2014 or retire. If he decides to come back, the Yankees will face a number of teams bidding on a pitcher with his playoff experience and strong prior season. There are currently no discussions linking Burnett with the Yankees, but with Masahiro Tanaka’s future this year uncertain, he is a pitcher that at least deserves a phone call from the Yankees’ front office.