Saturday, August 20, 2011

Burnett Must Go

It's one thing when a pitcher struggles, when he can't find his command, when he can't find any consistency. Those things can sometimes be corrected. Sometimes they cannot depending on the pitcher. A.J. Burnett has struggled with consistency and all of the above issues for his entire career. But in tonight's game, one in which Burnett was horrible from start to not-even-coming-close to the finish, he overstepped the bounds of the pitcher-manager relationship...again.

Burnett had already allowed four runs to the Minnesota Twins and had loaded the bases with two outs in just the second inning of play. When Burnett issued his third free pass of the inning, Joe Girardi had seen enough. In past starts, Burnett's body language had made it clear he was not happy with Girardi's decision to pull him from the game. Tonight, Burnett went beyond that. He walked off the mound, turned back and said "This is fucking bullshit!". Girardi didn't acknowledge his pitcher's wrath, but when Burnett took it one step further by leaving the dugout while the runners he was responsible for were still on base, Girardi had seen enough. He followed Burnett down towards the clubhouse, and though we don't know what was said (which will surely be downplayed by Girardi), Burnett returned to bench.

Burnett then saw his ERA blow up even further when all three inherited runners crossed home plate against Luis Ayala. It was a fitting punishment for the walking tantrum that Burnett has become. Last season in a fit of frustration Burnett cut both his hands when he slammed them against a shower door. It all shows that A.J. Burnett has to be gone after this season. His teammates may publicly defend him and stand by him, but behind the scenes you can bet this doesn't sit well, particularly with Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera.

Burnett may apologize, and may say all the right things, but that doesn't change things. I was critical of GM Brian Cashman's recent defense of Burnett's performance this year, but now I understand that Cashman has to keep things positive if he is to trade Burnett in the off-season. Let me re-phrase that, when Cashman trades him in the off-season. He has no choice. And with "just" two years and a little over $20MM remaining on Burnett's deal, Cashman should be able to find a taker, esp. in the NL.

The Yankees don't have the same swagger when Burnett is on the mound and you can bet they don't have confidence in him. It's no coincidence that Burnett gets so little run support. It's not a scheme, as I have joked about in the past, but a player's psyche definitely affects their play. It's no different than seeing a team's defense back on their heels because a pitcher is walking the park. When the Yankees were down 7-0, they were already beaten. Yes, they've gotten Burnett off the hook before, but to be down that much, that early, the team was literally in a no-win situation.

It's time for Burnett to languish in the bullpen. No one needs to be reminded by Girardi or Cashman about the big win Burnett had in the road to the championship two seasons ago. That's ancient history. The Yankees NEED to win the AL East and get home field advantage, at least for one round of the playoffs. That is their best shot. It's also in their best interest to be running both Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova out there every fifth day when Freddy Garcia returns.

The Yankees are almost assuredly going to the post-season, but Girardi has no idea in his mind right now who will follow CC Sabathia in the playoff rotation. But one thing is clear, A.J. Burnett is not an option.

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