Back in 2005, the Blue Jays committed $55M over five years to a pitcher with a great arm, but a spotty injury history and a 49-50 career record. That pitcher was A.J. Burnett. After a taking a his sixth consecutive loss of the 2005 season on September 25th, Burnett had been asked to leave the team after making critical comments about the coaching staff and teammates. None of the potential negatives quelled the optimism manager John Gibbons and G.M. J.P. Richardi had when Toronto signed him:
"He's got one of the best arms in baseball," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "On any given night, he can shut out. I just think he'll fit in perfect."
"We think we've done our homework," Riccardi said. "We looked at his age, being so young. I don't think we'd get involved with someone even in his mid-30s."
Although you won't find many Blue Jay fans that agree with these calculations, according to FanGraphs, they got their money's worth. Despite making only 46 starts in his first two seasons in Toronto, F-G says Burnett was worth $11.4M and $11.8M in 2006 & 2007, respectively. Last year, he took the mound 35 times, and although he had a 4.07ERA on an 86 win team, won 18 games and was worth $25.5M. That works out to a total of $48.7M, whereas he was paid roughly $32M over that time.
After he leveraged the best season of his career and opted to become a free agent, the Yankees signed Burnett, now three years older to the same five year commitment (except with no player opt-outs), but for $27.5M more. The manager and he G.M. this time:
"We got the two gentlemen we really wanted," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I'm proud to say they're Yankees.">8
"The one thing that I think today represents is just another example of that we're going to keep swinging for the fences," Cashman said. "We're going to keep trying. We're going to keep finding people and the right circumstances for a group that can make it happen."
So far this season, like he has been in much of his career, Burnett has been inconsistent. He has shown flashes of brilliance, like when he carried a no-hitter into the 7th inning against the Rays, but was also slapped around to the tune of 8ER in 5 innings in Boston. In six starts he has accumulated an ERA of 5.26 and been tagged for 6HR or 1.4/9IP, the highest rate of his career. Three of those dingers have come at home and three on the road in an equal proportion of starts, so he can't use the New Stadium as an excuse. He's yet to give up fewer than two runs in a start, and tonight, as he returns home to face his old team, might be a good night to break that trend.
Starting tonight for Toronto will be consummate ace and perennial Cy Young candidate, Roy Halladay. Primarily because he hasn't pitched fewer than 7 innings in a game this year, Halladay has received a decision in every game, going 6-1 in 7 tries. At 3.29, his ERA isn't incredible, but combined with the duration of his outings, he is an incredibly valuable commodity.
The two starters tonight got along well when they were teammates and Burnett credits much of his success in Toronto to being in the rotation with two-time Cy Young Award winner:
The main thing I gathered from [Halladay] is preparation and focus. I never really watched videos or paid that much attention until I got around him. He's locked into every game when he's not pitching. I try to do that when I'm not pitching also.
This talk of the improved work ethic was one of the major reasons that Brian Cashman swooped in and outbid the Braves for Burnett's services.
It will be interesting to see how Burnett is received tonight. He was given a standing ovation when he left the mound in his last start in Toronto last year, after shutting down the Yankees to the tune of 2 runs over 8 innings. Somehow, I don't think the fact that he will be returning in Yankees' road grays is going to go over too well with the Blue Jay faithful.
This version is from The Old Grey Whistle Test
Hello old friend (hello old friend)
It's really good to see you once again (hello old friend)