Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Burnett has the makings of a stud

Count me as one of the many Yankees fans who were fairly resigned to the idea of A.J. Burnett failing in New York.

I can't remember a recent free-agent signing who smacked so obviously as a descendant of the Kenny Rogers Memorial School of Suckitude. Burnett signed a five-year, $55 million deal with the Yankees in the offseason, money befitting of an ace. But Burnett had never been an ace, his injury and perceived personality makeup made the deal reek as an unwise financial risk in the vein of Carla Pavano.

In fact, Burnett has had only two full Major League seasons that could be qualified as unmitigated successes. Last season with the Jays, when he led the AL in strikeouts and won 18 games, and 2004, a 209-inning, 198-strikeout, 3.44 ERA season with the Marlins. That both campaigns came in contract walk years was lost on no one.

He hasn't wasted any time trying to convert the non-believers. Just two starts in, A.J. Burnett has Yankee fans feeling bullish on his potential as an ace counterpart to CC Sabathia. Performances like the one he had against the Rays on Tuesday tend to do that, when he took a no-hitter into the seventh. He finished with eight innings of two-run ball, giving the bullpen a much-needed blow after the Wanger's latest meltdown. The Yanks got a needed 7-2 win, upping Burnett to 2-0 in his young Yankee career.

It's far too early to annoint Burnett as the next Cy Young winner, just as it's too soon to say that Wang is baseball's worst pitcher. But getting off to a productive start seemed to be an important step to Burnett's success here. A big contract has a way of making even the best players press, but we already know that hasn't affected Burnett. Shutting down the defending AL champs in their building is certainly something to get excited about, and health permitting, I'm beginning to think we may have a real stud on our hands.

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