Monday, January 16, 2012

Hughes, Burnett the odd men out for Yankees?

The New York Yankees all of a sudden have a crowded starting rotation heading into spring training after reportedly signing Hiroki Kuroda and trading for Michael Pineda. So who are the odd men out? Most likely it will be either AJ Burnett or Phil Hughes, or perhaps both of them.

Hughes just got some good news, as his agents and the Yankees reached agreement on a one-year, $3.25 million contract with performance bonuses and avoided arbitration for the second straight year. I’m glad that Hughes and the Yankees were able to reach a deal because of the contentious nature of these arbitration hearings. Hughes would not have had as strong a case for a raise this year as he struggled with injuries and was unable to replicate his 2010 All-Star campaign. With Hughes rededicating himself to going into spring training in tip top shape, I fully expect him to have a bounce-back year.

But even if Hughes struggles in spring training, I don’t think the Yankees are ready to trade him, despite the rumors in the blogosphere. For one, he is coming off a rough year so his value is not as high as it was a few years ago when he was a key prospect that Brian Cashman simply refused to part with for Johan Santana. Secondly, the Yankees know that Hughes can be successful in the bullpen and could ultimately decide that is the best spot for him, as they eventually did with Joba Chamberlain.

Burnett is another issue entirely. He has worn out his welcome with Yankee fans, and possibly even people within the Yankees organization, as evidenced by the Yankees reported willingness to trade him. Since the Yankees would have to pick up a huge chunk of his remaining salary over the next two years to make it happen, I still think the odds of a trade are miniscule. But I think the Yankees are almost out of patience with Burnett so his large contract is not going to protect him for much longer. Burnett has already been demoted to the bullpen in the playoffs and I could easily see the Yankees shifting him to the pen if he struggles in the regular season.

It’s possible this overcrowding situation will be resolved by injury although I would hate to see anyone lose a job because they got hurt. More likely, Hughes and Burnett will have to step up to keep their jobs. I believe Hughes can do that, but seriously doubt we will ever see Burnett consistently harness his ridiculous talent to become the #2 starter the Yankees paid for. 

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