Too many dollars, too many years for Burnett
The signing of Burnett leads to two other potential problems. One is that $16 million per season could have gone a long way toward improving an offense that declined from outstanding in 2007 to merely good in 2008, and is counting on too many older players to be certain of 2009 production. Rather than signing Burnett, the Yankees could have grabbed Mark Teixeira, or likely any two of Adam Dunn, Pat Burrell or Milton Bradley. All four players are Burnett's age or younger, and all four, to varying degrees, address New York's biggest problem with Sabathia in the fold: offensive upside.
The move also probably closes the door on opportunities for New York's prized pitching prospects Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, and the underrated Alfredo Aceves. The Yankees, who seemed determined a season ago to build around those pitchers, will be left without a rotation spot once Pettitte re-signs. Either those pitchers waste away in AAA, or New York will turn to them once Burnett gets injured, and pay $16 million for the privilege of watching their young pitchers perform. Given Burnett's fragility, New York can't very well deal the young pitchers for offense -- the backup plan is needed.
The week was an epic one for the Yankees. In C.C. Sabathia, the team undid the mistakes of the recent past which saw them pass on elite players Johan Santana and Carlos Beltran to fill positional needs. But A.J. Burnett seems to be a return to the unsuccessful late-1980s New York model, of overpaying veterans whose success is questionable at best.
I completely agree with Megdal's reservations about Burnett's performance. He's not reliable, and the Yankees have pretty obviously overpaid. Too many dollars, too many years. If the Yankees wanted an impressive fifth starter, they probably could have spent a little less money for a slightly better pitcher. But what's a few million dollars to the Yankees?
As for Hughes and Kennedy and Aceves, not one of them has yet proved that he's up to the rigors of pitching 180 league-average innings in the majors. I hate to see any of them waste away in the minors, but there will be the inevitable injuries to the veterans, and if those guys are pitching well in Triple-A, they'll get their chances eventually (if they're not traded first for a center fielder).
And the offense? Yankee Stadium is (or rather, was) a pitcher's park. Considering only road games, the Yankees finished third in the American League in OPS last year. Maybe that doesn't qualify as "excellent," but it's certainly somewhere between "good" and "excellent." Granted, everybody's a year older and we might expect a slight decline next year. So yes, the Yankees should try to improve their offense and I'm not at all convinced they can't still afford to do exactly that. Has Brian Cashman suggested that he's finished spending money? If he has, I missed it. In fact, I'll be surprised if the Yankees' Opening Day lineup doesn't look better than it looks right now.
And right now it looks pretty darn good.