A month ago, I discussed the possibility of A.J. Burnett returning to the Bronx after having a great couple years in Pittsburgh. This was before hearing any information concerning whether Burnett even wanted to return to baseball. Now, we know Burnett wants to come back for at least one more year, and multiple teams are interested. After all the money the Yankees have spent this offseason, could they reach back into the wallet for one more attempt at solidifying a starting rotation that has a ton of questions at the back end?
Since the last time I discussed bringing Burnett back to New York, the Yankees acquired Masahiro Tanaka from Japan, bumping the bottom half of the rotation down a notch. As such, the Yankees rotation is much stronger than it was a month ago. The team is now looking at C.C. Sabathia, Tanaka, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, and a 5th starter. Rather than wondering about 40% of the rotation, the Yankees can focus solely on that 5th spot. Even then, the spot is a bit crowded.
Michael Pineda and Vidal Nuno are the front runners to grab the spot if no other moves are made. However, if Burnett is added to the squad, Nova, Pineda, and Nuno can take one more year to refine their game. Burnett would move into the 4th spot, and Nova would face 5th starter pitching – at least to start the year. Reports are Pineda is close to returning to pre-injury strength and velocity, and Nuno is a long shot to make the rotation as it stands now. Knowing Burnett is 37 and isn’t going to take up a spot for more than a year or two, he’s a great option to give other Yankees time to prepare their own games.
Now, the other side of the coin – Burnett is the guy that couldn’t handle pitching in New York. Sure, he won the World Series with us in 2009, but he spent two years afterwards looking like he hoped he’d throw a strike with every pitch. He’s years older than the last time he couldn’t pitch in the Bronx. Why would the Yankees spend any money trying again? In short, because of how well he handled his last two years. Of course, the NL Central is not the AL East. However, if you did not know the name of the pitcher who had a 9.8 K/BB ratio and touched 96 MPH on the gun last season, would you want him? Of course you would. His name just happens to be A.J. Burnett.
The Yankees have a history of trying to grab the last amount of playing ability left in a player after making strides for other clubs. A.J. Burnett is no different in that regard. He will not command a massive salary, both in money and years. It’s a relatively low risk option because of the pitchers waiting to get into the rotation. The front runners for Burnett right now are the Baltimore Orioles, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Tampa Bay Rays. Even if you aren’t comfortable with Burnett on the team, having him somewhere else in the AL East could be a potential nightmare. He needs to come back, and the Yankees shouldn’t think twice about his previous tenure in the Bronx. They can’t afford to.