"Ricciardi is not forced to trade Burnett, but keeping him will be a huge distraction. Besides, draft choices are only good when you see what you have four years down the road. Ricciardi likely won't be around that long. The Jays should find a dance partner and allow Burnett to negotiate a deal, ending the Burnett Era in Toronto."
Richard Griffin – Toronto Star
One can argue whether Burnett’s comments to a Chicago reporter last weekend were by design, or just a slip in judgment. But, it hardly matters. Whether Burnett is selfish/stupid/arrogant is irrelevant to the question that needs to be addressed:
Should the Jays unload him?
Richard Griffin is the latest in the media to suggest that Burnett’s value is less than it is perceived. Others, including OOLF’s Tyler King, in the comments section here, have argued that Toronto would be foolhardy to unload a player with the skill set Burnett appears to have.
Certainly, when A.J. is on he can be un-hittable. He’s inconsistent, but, really, all of that is irrelevant to this discussion.
Rather than looking at Burnett’s stuff, you must approach the question as a cost/benefit analysis—is Burnett more valuable to the Jays than what Toronto could get for him in the trade market? Or, more importantly, do the Jays need Burnett more than they need another bat in the line-up.
In his attempt to debunk my earlier argument about Burnett’s value, Tyler evoked the age-old baseball argument about never having too much pitching. It’s similar to the defense wins championship argument of football and it suffers from the same flaw of generalization. No doubt pitching is important, but it does you no good if you can’t score enough runs to take advantage of it.
Consider the 2008 Jays. We don’t need to detail the team’s struggles. Anyone who has watched this team understands its remarkable ability to find ways not to score. Statistically, Toronto is on pace to put just 653 runners across the plate. To put that in perspective, the fewest runs scored by any division winning team in the AL during the past five seasons is 741. In the AL East it’s 867 (the numbers are included below).
Currently, Burnett’s stats show him to be the fifth best starter on the Jays. Take that and also consider the likelihood of him blowing town come November, and it’s hard to understand what the purpose is in keeping him. The only way it makes sense is if Burnett is giving the Jays something that would help them overcome the obvious offensive shortcoming.
He’s not. His current WHIP of 1.506 is not significantly better than the fifth best starter on any of the 15 most recent champions in the AL. It’s about the same, actually. The average number for a champions’ fifth best guy during that time was 1.526.
Six of the 15 had better numbers than A.J. It’s clear that the fifth starter, which Burnett is statistically, isn’t a vital position on a championship team.
Clearly, having Burnett in the rotation isn’t going to be enough to get to the playoffs. Recent history—both Toronto’s and the league’s—tells us that. However, he is an asset that may be able to bring something in. If the Jays can get a bat for him, they would, frankly, be insane not to jump at the chance.
The numbers (from here):
Boston 2007: 867 – 1.500
Yankees 2006: 930 – 1.716
Yankees 2005: 886 – 1.718
Yankees 2004: 897 – 1.468
Yankees 2003: 877 – 1.619
Cleveland 2007: 811 – 1.521
Minnesota 2006: 801 – 1.560
Chicago 2005: 741 – 1.457
Minnesota 2004: 780 – 1.627
Minnesota 2003: 801 – 1.363
LAA 2007: 822 – 1.621
Oakland 2006: 771 – 1.221
LAA 2005: 761 – 1.392
LAA 2004: 834 – 1.621
Oakland 2003: 768 – 1.500
Toronto 2008: 653 – 1.506
Average: 823 – 1.526