There’s no way to spin it: A.J. Burnett’s contract is a problem. He’s spent the past two seasons struggling to keep pace as anything other than a high-dollar innings eater, and although the potential for dominance exists — and shows itself from time to time — his 5.20 ERA since 2010 paints a pretty accurate picture of his overall impact. That’s two years of sub-par performance, with two more years remaining.
Would the Yankees like a do-over? Of course they would, but looking back forces us to consider two things: Burnett’s outstanding performance in Game 2 of the 2009 World Series, and the possibility of each alternative. As Brock pointed out in this morning’s Pinch Hitter post, passing on Burnett might very well have opened the door to Derek Lowe or John Lackey in pinstripes. Let’s not pretend Burnett is the only highly paid pitcher struggling to live up to his contract these days.
Otherwise, the Yankees have little reason to regret either of those other two free agent deals from 2008. CC Sabathia’s deal has been an unquestionable plus, and Mark Teixeira has remained productive even through back-to-back down seasons. There’s obviously some cause for concern there — he hasn’t been the same all-around hitter the Yankees were expecting — but if the past two years were Teixeira’s low point, the Yankees will surely be pleased with that deal in the end.
In reality, the least regrettable part of that wild winter of 2008 wasn’t Teixeira, and it wasn’t even Sabathia.
Before making any of those signings, the Yankees bought low on Nick Swisher, making one of the most lopsided trades of the Brian Cashman era. With Swisher coming off a down year, the Yankees traded away three forgettable players: Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez. Betemit has remained a solid but easily replaceable player, while Marquez and Nunez have barely tasted the big leagues.
Swisher, on the other hand, has hit .267/.368/.486 with 81 home runs and 256 RBI since coming to the Yankees. Given some of the corner outfield alternatives, Swisher’s contract has been reasonably affordable without much long-term risk.
Even if you’re not a big Swisher fan — if you don’t like the over-the-top personality or the lower-than-you-might-expect batting average — it’s hard to argue that the trade was anything but a massive win for the Yankees. It’s an overlooked part of an overwhelming winter.
Associated Press photo