Braves lose AJ Burnett to Yankees.
I have two reactions to this news:
1. God, I hate those freaking Yankees.
2. God, I love those freaking Yankees.
The Braves came into the off-season intent on adding two relatively top-flight starters. If you stretch the definition of "relatively top-flight starter" to its breaking point, Javier Vazquez probably qualifies as the first. That second starter, it seems, is going to be harder to find.
Frank Wren first struck out on Jake Peavy, understandable considering how intransigent Padres GM Kevin Towers has been in those negotiations. Burnett was at the top of Wren's free agent shopping list and was probably Plan A before Towers decided to shop Peavy.
I hate those freaking Yankees because, while I've never been a salary cap proponent, it's infuriating to watch them swoop in and sign without a second thought a player who would be a massive expenditure for Atlanta. And after signing the best starting pitcher on the market (CC Sabathia), inking the second-best pitcher just seems overkill and...well, unfair. It'll be even more galling if New York signs Derek Lowe, the third-best pitcher available and possibly Plan C for Wren. (I'm hoping for Ben Sheets, though if you think Burnett's a health risk...) If Sheets and Lowe don't work out, Wren will probably turn to Randy Wolf, and no matter how far you stretch the definition of "top-flight starter," Randy Wolf sure as hell doesn't fit.
On the other hand, I love those freaking Yankees because I don't know that a team in the Braves' situation needs to throw $80 million and five years (Atlanta's reported best offer) at a 32-year-old pitcher who's thrown 200 innings just three times in his career. (Two of those coming in free agent walk years) $80 million is no big thing for the Yankees; should Burnett tank in New York, it will annoy the various Steinbrenners, but it'll be just that: an annoyance. With overflowing revenue streams pouring into the Bronx from the YES Network and a new Yankee Stadium, the Yankees can throw money around with only perfunctory thoughts given to the possible consequences. Ultimately, that's the difference between the Yankees and a team like the Braves: an AJ Burnett-sized mistake would cripple Atlanta for half a decade. It wouldn't faze the Yankees.
In that respect, the Braves got lucky here. Burnett's fragility is somewhat overstated, but there's no denying that he's a risk. It might be a risk worth taking if the Braves were one pitcher away from contention, but to repeat something I've written before, Atlanta is not Javier Vazquez and AJ Burnett away from competing with the Phillies and Mets. And I don't know that the Braves can count on Burnett being a big part of their next championship team.
According to Braves.com, Atlanta's rotation right now is Vasquez-Jair Jurrjens-Jorge Campillo-Jo Jo Reyes-Charlie Morton, with James Parr hoping to break in to that gang. Considering how bad Reyes and Morton were last year, it's probably not a good idea to rely on both of them. Slotting one veteran pitcher into the rotation behind Vazquez and Jurrjens would move Campillo to the fourth position and let the Parr/Morton/Reyes threesome battle it out in spring training. Wolf's not a particularly good pitcher, but on a one-year contract, there's no real harm bringing him into the fold.