Everyone knows the fable of the Scorpion and the Frog.
A scorpion, looking for a change in his life, set out on a journey to find a new home. He came to a river and, when he couldn’t find a way across, asked a frog if he’d let him ride his back to the other side of the river.
The frog was suspicious that the scorpion was going to sting and kill him. The scorpion explained that he wouldn’t do that while they were going across because then they both would die; nor would he do it when they reached the other side of the river because he’d be so grateful for the help that he’d let the frog live.
Of course, halfway across the river, the scorpion stung the frog. The frog asked the scorpion why he did it and the scorpion said, “it’s in my nature”.
This fable reminds me of A.J. Burnett.
A thing is what it is and can be nothing other than that.
A.J. Burnett is a talented pitcher.
But A.J. Burnett is not a good pitcher.
There’s a big difference. Now, at age 35, the days of possible evolution are over.
They probably never really existed.
This is what he is.
The Yankees are desperately trying to unload Burnett and the $33 million he’s owed through 2013 and unless they eat a significant chunk of it or exchange it for another club’s headache/onerous contract (Chone Figgins for example), no one is taking Burnett.
When the Yankees signed him, they held a joint press conference introducing both Burnett and CC Sabathia. The idea seemed to be that because they were paying him like a superstar and treating him like a superstar, he’d become a superstar.
That hasn’t happened.
But Burnett is being blamed for being Burnett and it’s not fair.
What did they think they were getting?
Burnett’s been somewhat worse than what his career averages were when he arrived in New York, but not by much. It’s been within the margin of expectations as his ERA has risen by a run from his career level in the past two seasons, but that could be a natural decline for a pitcher in his mid-30s rather than any mental or physical limitations.
He’s wild, he allows a lot of home runs and his power fastball/wicked curve combination have never yielded the results over the long term that each and every one of his teams has expected. Of all the teams that had Burnett, the one that got the most value from him was the team that drafted him—the Mets—because they traded him for Al Leiter in February of 1998 and Leiter was a linchpin to the good Mets teams of the late 1990s-2000.
Was it arrogance on the part of the Yankees thinking that slotting Burnett into the middle of their rotation with a strong bullpen and a club that scored a lot of runs would gloss over his frailties and allow him to win 15 games a year, give them 200 innings and render it meaningless when he walked a load of hitters and had the occasional game in which he gave up 10 runs?
It actually sort of made sense.
In the winter of 2008-2009, they had the money to spend and Burnett was coming off a fully healthy season for the Blue Jays where he seemed to have figured it all out. The Yankees wanted to appease their spoiled and angry fanbase with some drastic and expensive signings to make up for their first season of missed playoffs since 1994 so they signed Mark Teixeira, Sabathia and Burnett.
They hoped Burnett would continue evolving and he regressed.
A pitcher like Burnett never figures it out and there’s no reason to blame him for that.
He’s consistent in his inconsistency just as he’s always been.
The Yankees might find a way to get rid of Burnett, but it’s never going to answer the questions of what they thought they were getting when they signed him. There’s no reason to be mad at him for being who he is. They paid for Burnett and that’s who they got.
He’s the scorpion that stung Brian Cashman.
Because he’s A.J. Burnett.
It’s in his nature.