A.J. CAN BE WHAT THE YANKEES NEED HIM TO BEBy Wallace Matthews
The question of whether or not A.J. Burnett can be a true No. 2 starter for the Yankees this year is the same as asking, "Who is better, A.J. Burnett or Phil Hughes?"
Because right now, barring a major trade or some other outrageous stroke of good fortune, the Yankees' 2011 rotation is one exclamation point, CC Sabathia, and a series of question marks.
Honestly, it would not be that tough for any decent major league starter to stake a claim to the No. 2 spot in the Yankees' rotation because after Sabathia, every other spot is wide open.
Hughes, of course, seems to have leapfrogged Burnett for the second spot in the rotation through numbers -- 18-8, 4.19 ERA as opposed to 10-15, 5.26 -- and attrition (the retirement of Andy Pettitte). If Hughes can come close to his 2010 year, with say, 16 wins, then the Yankees can live with Burnett as a decent No. 3, with 12-14 wins. If they can then get, say, 10 wins each out of Ivan Nova and whoever emerges off the retread pile -- Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, Sergio Mitre -- to win the battle for No. 5, they will come close to, if not duplicate, the 70 wins posted by Yankees starters last year.
The point is, it may not be essential for Burnett to repeat the numbers he put up for the Blue Jays in 2008, when he went 18-10 with a 4.07 ERA, a season good enough to persuade the Yankees that he was worth a five-year, $82.5 million investment.
What he did for the Yankees in 2009 -- 13-9, 4.04 and a couple of excellent postseason starts -- may be enough.
The Yankees should begin viewing him as what he is at this age and stage of his career -- an adjunct to a pitching staff, certainly not its anchor and not even its fallback position should the ace falter.
I agree with my colleague Andrew Marchand that A.J. Burnett is no longer a No. 2 and may never have been.
But the fact is, if the rest of the staff does its job, A.J. Burnett as a No. 3 may be exactly what the Yankees need him to be.
A.J. A NO. 2? NO WAY, NO HOWBy Andrew Marchand
Is A.J. Burnett a No. 2 starter? Was he ever? Burnett's history says he pitches his best when he can become a free agent.
Unlike with CC Sabathia, there is no opt-out gold at the end of Burnett's 2011 rainbow.
So will Burnett be better than last year? In chorus, how could he not be? But, ultimately, he won't be a legit No. 2. There is little reason to believe he has it in him.
He has said he finally realizes he's really important to the team. Apparently, the $82.5 million he is being paid was not enough of a clue.
Burnett is not a bad guy or a bad pitcher, but he is a big tease. In football, he would be the guy who dominates the pre-draft combine. He has all the tools, but he can't fully take advantage of them.
New pitching coach Larry Rothschild will probably get some good streaks out of Burnett. Dave Eiland is gone, too.
But to be a legit No. 2, Burnett has to go against form. He has to be consistent.
He has won 13 games or more only twice in his career. No. 2 starters do better than that.
Besides, his best ERA came in 2005, the first time he found himself heading into free agency. His most wins were in 2008, the second time he was in a contract year.
Usually, he is a 12-win pitcher.
If you don't take my word for it that Burnett is not a legit No. 2 then ask the Yankees -- or, at least, judge their actions. They tried so hard for Cliff Lee. They prayed for Andy Pettitte. Why? Because they didn't think Burnett could really be the No. 2 they need.
He was historically bad last year. His 10-15, 5.26 ERA may have been the worst season for a starter in Yankees history.
He will probably be better this year. But a legit No. 2? Even the Yankees have their doubts. Look, if GM Brian Cashman had had his way, Burnett would be the No. 5 starter.