Is Billy Connors still a Yankees employee?
Or did his role as the organizational “pitching guru”—real or imagined though it may have been—die with George Stienbrenner?
One of the problems with the top down management style in which the GM is the boss is that there’s a continuity of strategy that can occasionally be debilitating when a different approach is needed.
Sometimes friction and undermining—on a limited basis—is useful.
Brian Cashman is in charge of the Yankees baseball operation…mostly. This holds true except when Randy Levine decides he knows more than Cashman does and signs a player like Rafael Soriano whom Cashman wanted no part of.
With that “almost” in charge responsibility comes the conscious decision to trust his manager and pitching coach in handling whatever comes up with the pitchers. That means manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild are entrusted with deciding what to do and how to fix—if he’s fixable—A.J. Burnett.
I don’t know what to do with Burnett; I don’t know what the Yankees are going to do with Burnett; I don’t know what the Yankees should or can do with Burnett. Having not seen his latest hideous start in which he allowed 9 runs in five innings to the Orioles, I can only go by the boxscore.
But that’s enough.
9 hits, 9 earned runs, 3 wild pitches and 2 homers in five innings is pretty much what it is—there’s no dressing it up.
Whether you believe Burnett’s story that he was cussing at the umpire and not Girardi upon his removal from his last hideous start (and I do believe him), the Yankees can’t keep trotting him out there if this is the performance they’re going to get; it’s every start now and it’s not fair to the rest of the team to play behind a pitcher who has become so thoroughly noncompetitive at the big league level that they’re going to either get blown out in the early innings or have to climb from a huge hole to win and burn out the bullpen to do it.
Freddy Garcia‘s cut finger bought Burnett some time and ended the Yankees six man rotation; but Garcia’s ready to come back. Burnett will again be safe because upcoming doubleheaders and an absence of off-days will require six starters; but once that’s done, how can they rightfully keep Burnett in the rotation when all returns to normal? What does it say to the rest of the team when someone is clearly holding onto his spot because of his paycheck, circumstances and the GM’s insistence that his signing was worthwhile?
And what would George Steinbrenner do?
If he was alive and at his bloviating peak, the first thing he’d do is scream like a raving maniac at someone about Burnett. It might be Cashman, Levine, one of his sons, an unfortunate secretary or a hapless assistant. But someone. The rant would resemble the following: “My GM tells me he’s getting me a great pitcher, I pay the guy $80 million *bleeping* dollars and he can’t even beat the *bleeping* Orioles!!!”
Then it would be leaked to the media that Steinbrenner’s not happy with Burnett; that he wants his manager Girardi and pitching coach Rothschild to do something about it. “It’s up to the manager and his experienced, veteran pitching coach—who has a long, respected history in the game—to figure out what to do with that struggling young man.”
Then he’d turn to a sycophantic member from the “Tampa faction” of the baseball ops, Connors.
This strategy’s logic is irrelevant; that’s what Steinbrenner would do.
Steinbrenner’s adherence to beliefs from his days coaching college football extended to his baseball ownership. For him, motivation emanated from fear and yelling. Sometimes it even worked. There have been times since his deterioration and passing that the Yankees needed a lightning rod to distract from issues that are now being taken up by Cashman; and Cashman has sometimes been tone deaf as to what he should and shouldn’t say. He’s not really suited to the role of organizational bad guy; Steinbrenner relished and cultivated it.
Would Connors or anyone else have success with Burnett? A bewildered shrug is the only answer I can formulate. I think former tennis star Jimmy Connors might be a viable choice to straighten Burnett out; if nothing else, he’d help with sour faces, carping at officials and showing some fire on the field while he’s on the field rather than when his manager inevitably comes to take the ball after another woeful start.