Saturday, September 27, 2008

Blue Jays can't afford to get in a bidding war for Burnett

What can you say about the season A.J. Burnett just put in. He finished the 2008 season with 18-10 record and established career highs in almost every single pitching category. He set a career high with 18 wins, appeared in with 35 games while starting 34 games, pitched 221 1/3 innings, and led the American league with 231 strikeouts.

As a free agent this fall he will be hotly pursued by numerous teams with lots of money spend. But as much as the Blue Jays can't afford to lose him, they also can't afford to compete with the Yankees, Dodgers and Mets. They have some significant gaps in their lineup and to compete in the AL East they need to be filled. Lets face it the Jays like most teams work with a limited budget while the Yankees and Red Sox work under the principle that "the sky is the limit". Despite the injuries they still have a solid pitching staff though not nearly as good if it was healthy and included Burnett.

Burnett has been rather diplomatic and said all the right things. He has said on numerous occasions that he likes the team. But he has never said that he would like to stay so I'm guessing he could like other teams as much if the compensation was also to his liking. But you can tell from his demeanor that he has enjoyed the year and enjoys playing for Cito Gaston. In fact Cito did a classy thing in A.J.'s last start. Cito pulled Burnett at the start of the 9th inning so he could walk out to the mound one more time to get an ovation from the fans and they obliged by showering him with applause. The media reported today that the Jays have made a very nice offer to extend his contract. He obviously would make more if he left for free agency so he has some decisions to make.

But there are other concerns regarding Burnett. Until the second half of this season Burnett has been a .500 pitcher. Going into this season he was a career 69-66. Burnett is essentially a two-pitch pitcher, relying on the combination fastball and curveball. If he can't get his curveball over the plate for strikes, he often is forced to rely on his fastball which hitters will eventually get around on. And since his "Tommy John" surgery, he has lost some velocity on his fastball.

Perhaps this year he has finally matured into a complete pitcher. But there are other factors to consider. In 10 seasons he has had 30 or more starts just 3 times. Although he gets a lot of strikeouts, he also gives up a lot of walks and runs. Far too many for a pitcher who might become one of the highest paid in the game. And he has been injured far too many times in 10 seasons. This was his only healthy year in the seasons with the Jays. Considering he hit a career high in innings pitched this season, will that be followed by a season interrupted with injuries again? And lets not overlook the how much the Jays' bullpen contributed to his 18 wins. Burnett didn't have one single complete this season so he had to rely on the bullpen. This year's bullpen was the best in the majors and in those 18 wins, the bullpen just gave up 2 earned runs.

So it would be great to see Burnett pitching along side Halladay again next season for a dynamite 1-2 punch. But it wouldn't be prudent to overpay for his services. Because unlike the Yankees, the Jays can't spend their way out of mistakes.

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