As the rumors begin to heat up during the Winter Meetings, one name that I guarantee will be talked about incessantly is AJ Burnett. Teams view Burnett as one of the best free agent pitchers this off season and there have been a long list of suitors so far. The Braves, Yankees, and Blue Jays appear to be the most willing to open up their checkbooks for Burnett, who is looking for a five year deal in the range of $12-$15 million dollars per season. That's an ace contract for a guy who has ace stuff. Burnett can throw in the upper nineties with absolutely filthy breaking stuff and when he is on, he's dominant. What's there not to like...right?
With that said, I would NOT go after AJ Burnett.
First off, a four or five year pact with Burnett reeks of trouble. Burnett has always been hurt throughout his entire career and is very likely to spend lots of time on the disabled list in the coming years. Throughout his ten year career, Burnett has only pitched 200 innings three times and has been on the disabled list roughly fifteen times (by my estimate). Odds are very good that Burnett will miss time (potentially lots) during the four or five year contract. That's not a chance I'd want to take.
Teams seem to be in love with the potential that AJ Burnett brings to the table, but GMs need to be reminded of a few things:
1. Burnett has not been a winner
-Whether this is his fault or not, Burnett's inability to get the W needs to be stated. He has only won 15+ games once in his career and has historically been nothing more than a .500 pitcher. Does that sound like an ace to you?
-Sure the numbers look nice on the surface, but they do not tell the whole story. In 2008, probably Burnett's best season as a pro, he only ranked 75th in quality start percentage (56%), which means that Burnett is inconsistent. When he is good, he is very good; but he is not consistently good. You cannot honestly think that AJ Burnett is going to give you 25 quality outings every season...he has never been that good of a pitcher. I would not want to pay $15 million bucks for inconsistency.
And in closing, should it surprise anyone that Burnett delivered the best season of his career in a year where he could opt out of his contract? The whole "best performance in contract year" thing brings up too many bad memories of Gary Matthews Jr and Knicks C Jerome James for me....stay away.
It's not that Burnett is not a good pitcher, but for $15 million, I'd rather spend that money elsewhere.