A.J. Burnett diagnoses his Yankees problems
Now we know the problem.
If you're the Pittsburgh Pirates, or the next team to acquire A.J. Burnett, keep in mind the righthander's diagnosis of what went wrong during his three-year stay in the Bronx.
"Without getting too far into it, I would just say I let a few too many people tinker with me," Burnett said Monday morning at Pirate City, where he partook in his first workout with Pittsburgh. "Maybe, when you let that happen, you get out there, you start doubting yourself sometimes. Like 'Am I doing it right? Is this the way I'm supposed to feel?' This and that.
"In '09, when nobody messed with me, I was able to do what I wanted to do on the mound, whether it was turn all the way around, close my eyes, pitch upside down, whatever it was. Then you have a few bad games and you start changing and listening."
If you're the Yankees, you read this and you don't reassess your pitching supervision. You ignore that part. No, the lesson to learn from the Burnett Era is how to avoid more financial sinkholes.
If it's cause for celebration when you unload a pitcher for less than 50-percent salary relief ($13 million out of about $31 million) and a pair of warm bodies, then that doesn't go down as a great day for the franchise.
"I took the ball . . . every five days, expecting, thinking, preparing to throw a no-hitter, whether I threw a good game behind that or I was bad the game before," Burnett said. "I went out there every day with the same attitude, the same approach. It got crazy there, but you know what? It didn't get worse than that last game against Detroit. I had the whole world against me. I'm good with it."
A perennially injured guy when he signed his five-year, $82.5-million contract, Burnett proved surprisingly durable, as he noted, and he turned out to be a pretty stand-up guy with the media. Every time he did something dumb, which was not infrequent, he instantly owned up to it. This will not go down as an all-time horrendous acquisition.
Yet Burnett's lack of savvy, both on the mound and off it, simply wore out the Yankees, which is why they resolved to unload Burnett once they traded for Michael Pineda and signed Hiroki Kuroda. There was little reason to think he would pitch better for the Yankees in 2012. But his good health and impressive strikeout and ground-ball rates gave Pittsburgh -- playing in a more pitcher-friendly park, against inferior competition -- hope that Burnett's stuff could translate better.
And there's your classic "change of scenery," as Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. Burnett said he will "get the joy back in the game again" with his new club, and when asked if that meant his Yankees years weren't fun, he said, "I think it was fun the first couple of years." Pressed about 2011, his third year, Burnett self-edited: "It was fun."
The Yankees signed Burnett because, well, they were opening their new stadium, they had just missed the playoffs and they needed someone with front-of-the-rotation upside. They didn't sweat the long term because, gosh, there were ultra-expensive tickets to sell.
They've improved at this in the interim; the only multiyear commitments to pitchers this offseason and last have gone to relievers Rafael Soriano (three years) and Pedro Feliciano (two years). They need to stay diligent philosophically, because more big deals go poorly like Burnett's than successfully like CC Sabathia's.
"I got my ring there," Burnett said. "I got to play with a lot of great people, Hall of Famers. I played for a great manager. I take it and run."
The Yankees give it, another $18 million for Burnett to not pitch for them, and try to walk off the bruises.