A.J. Burnett couldnâ€™t handle the pressure of the New York media. And honestly, I canâ€™t blame him. I canâ€™t either.
The New York media is a pain in the ass. When I covered the Red Sox last season, there wasnâ€™t a day I dreaded going to work more than when the Yankees were in town (and I use the term â€œdreadedâ€ loosely â€“ I still loved going to work, just a little less than usual). The New York media operates in flocks of 40-plus. The pesky members crowd the tiny visitorâ€™s locker room at Fenway Park and question the Yankee players about everything from over-throws to underwear. The story lines are all stale, so the reporters are always looking for news.
Well, thatâ€™s where Burnett came into play. His entire career as a Yankee was newsworthy. He was signed to a five-year, $82.5 million deal, pitched one above-average season and then fell apart, going 21-26 with a 5.20 ERA the next two years.
Or so the Associated Press would lead you to believeâ€¦
Those lying journalists! Nah, the AP isnâ€™t lying, Burnett did have a 5.20 ERA. The AP just isnâ€™t whatâ€™s important. What it should of told us is that Burnett still fanned 318 batters over the last two years, and while his fastball has dipped in velocity from where it was five years ago, it still had some serious life on it.
But his command was the elephant in the room. Burnett led the Majors in wild pitches with 25 and allowed a career-high 31 homers. Now the Yankees are paying the Pirates millions so that he doesnâ€™t pitch in New York.
So, the aging starter has been making nothing but apple pies and excuses since leaving for Pittsburgh, saying New York was too much for him and there were always coaches tinkering with his delivery (isnâ€™t that what coaches do?), causing him to doubt himself and his ability as a Major League ballplayer.
Do I buy it? Not all of it. But what I do buy is that Burnett has no pressure these next two years in Pittsburgh. Heâ€™s already rich, and getting richer, and on a team like Pittsburgh, whether or not he pitches well really has no effect on his life. So thatâ€™s why I like him, a lot, in fantasy leagues this year. Sorry it took me seven paragraphs to say it.
First of all, Iâ€™m always a big fan of players moving to low-pressure situations or coming off terrible years. Burnett is both, and I donâ€™t think heâ€™s done. Sure, heâ€™s 35 years old, but heâ€™s actually stayed healthy four years in a row, and moving from Yankee Stadium to PNC Park (and from the AL East to the NL Central) is a change that needs to be taken seriously. He can still strike people out, and for that, Iâ€™m a buyer. Pencil in 170 Ks, and if he puts together an ERA under 4.00, you have yourself quite the value for a pitcher being drafted 232nd overall.
The other big move of the week comes from Oakland, who pulled Manny Ramirez from retirement and will pay him just over league minimum to act as a DH â€“ but not until at least June.
Before discounting Manny, though, consider this: The other DH options for Oakland are Kila Ka’aihue (who hasnâ€™t taken advantage of any opportunity heâ€™s been given in the Majors), Chris Carter (he of a career .167 batting average) and Daric Barton, who has 26 homers in 1,765 career plate appearances and still isnâ€™t healed from shoulder surgery. He canâ€™t even throw a baseball. Seriously.
So Manny will get playing time. No one knows whether or not heâ€™ll be good. But heâ€™s worth a gamble.
And last but not least this week: Mike Cameron, one of the nicest and most honest ballplayers Iâ€™ve talked to, was so intimidated by Bryce Harper that he decided to retire just days before Spring Training began. Well, that probably wasnâ€™t why he retired. Iâ€™m guessing it had more to do with Cameronâ€™s dissipating body, or his skill set, which has been declining at an equal rate. But most likely it was the fact that he has a very young daughter who he loves spending time with. And thatâ€™s respectable.
But the reason why Cameronâ€™s retirement is newsworthy is because thereâ€™s no one else left in the Nationalsâ€™ outfield. Itâ€™s Michael Morse in left, Jayson Werth in center, andâ€¦ of course, Harper in right. Now, I still donâ€™t believe Harper starts the year in the Majors. Thereâ€™s no reason for that, not when he can get called up in June and save the team millions in 2015-2016. But that spot in right field appears to be Harpers if he can go out and get it. Two good months in Triple-A might be all he needs.
Itâ€™s just too bad Harper wonâ€™t have Mike Cameron around to keep his head on straight.