2009 Offseason: Profiling A.J. Burnett


The Red Sox are said to have serious interest in free agent pitcher A.J. Burnett, who is also being pursued by the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays, among others. A.J. opted out of $12M/year in Toronto, so we are looking at a big financial commitment here. Should Boston blow away the righty and ink him to a 5-year deal in the $75-85M range?

Pros

Clearly there’s a lot to like about Burnett as a pitcher; the Red Sox were in on him the last time he was a free agent, but acquired Josh Beckett instead. He throws a 95-96 mph heater on his four-seamer and also has a two-seamer and an excellent hard 12-6 knuckle-curve (a la Mike Mussina) at 80-82 mph. He also has a changeup, but that’s more of a show-me pitch than anything else.

2009 Projections: A.J. Burnett
FantasyScope: 27 GS, 11 W, 173.2 IP, 19 HR, 63 BB, 174 K, 3.74 ERA and 1.25 WHIP
Bill James: 32 GS, 14 W, 224 IP, 21 HR, 88 BB, 218 K, 3.62 ERA and 1.28 WHIP
ZiPS: 28 GS, 12 W, 180 IP, 20 HR, 66 BB, 170 K, 3.95 ERA and 1.32 WHIP
Marcel: 13 W, 187 IP, 19 HR, 71 BB, 181 K, 3.99 ERA and 1.31 WHIP

Burnett is throwing hard and throwing well. Since signing with Toronto in 2006, he has shown that he is capable of being a strong #2 pitcher. He’s struck out more than a batter per inning the past two years, and controlled the walks for the most part. He is slightly home run-prone when he hangs one of those curveballs, though.

Cons

Many have noted how inconsistent Burnett is; some games he clearly just doesn’t have it, while he dominates others. To me, these games will balance out, so this is not as much of a concern. The overall numbers bear out what kind of pitcher he is.

But here’s what I do have a problem with: much of Burnett’s effectiveness comes from his velocity, but the man will be 32 next season. That means by the end of a 5-year deal, he will look quite different at age 36 and could become one of those guys who suffers a bad year or two and has to “reinvent” himself. I also question the wisdom of locking up a #2 pitcher for so long when we’ve got a lot of prospects (Clay Buchholz, Michael Bowden) knocking at the door who could easily be better than him in a year or two. The kind of contract being talked about would make Burnett the highest-paid player on the Red Sox. In a few years, when Lester enters arbitration, we’re going to have quite a bit of money in that rotation. Does signing him mean we have to let Beckett walk after 2010?

I don’t like Burnett’s injury history. He had Tommy John surgery in 2003, and has obviously recovered fully from that. But he also missed a lot of time in 2006 due to a strained elbow ligament and in 2007 due to shoulder pain. That shoulder does worry me a bit. He had a great season, but we’re looking at a guy who averaged just 27 starts the past three seasons. Throw in 2005, and it’s still only 28 starts per year. He’s reached 200 IP only three times in his career, and the two previous times, he hit the DL the following year for something. If that’s what we get from him, is that worth $15-17M a year?

I have been arguing for some time that the Red Sox should be looking to trade for a pitcher like Javier Vazquez, who routinely hits 200 IP and is signed short-term. He won’t toss as many shutouts as Burnett, but he will be good and save your bullpen from overuse.

Summary

Trust me, I like Burnett as a pitcher. I think he can definitely contribute to the team, and could really take this rotation over the top. He could also come here, tear something (or maybe he already has?) and just collect his cash on the DL. I’m not convinced he’s the right fit for our club right now. But then it’s not my opinion that has the final say.

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2 Responses to 2009 Offseason: Profiling A.J. Burnett

  1. redsoxtalk says:

    In case you’re wondering why a team already with 4 starters would be inquiring on Burnett:
    http://sonsofsamhorn.net/index.php?showtopic=39112

    If Wakefield retires, that would leave the Sox suddenly very short on starting pitching. That could explain their pursuit of Burnett that began in earnest a few days ago.

    In that situation, we’d definitely have to consider Burnett as an addition. I’d love to see if we could sign John Smoltz or Randy Johnson for a year.

  2. Pat says:

    I really hope Wakefield is fine.

    If he is, I would love to see the Sox pick up a one year deal on a veteran pitcher to do two things: Allow Buchholz the luxury of developing more in the minors, and keep Masterson in the bullpen.

    I’d rather not get Burnett to a cumbersome deal.

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