While luring both CC Sabathia and Burnett to The Bronx in a span of three days, the Yankees have significantly upgraded their starting rotation with a pair of hurlers whom many considered to be the elite options of the 2008 free agent starter class. They've done so at a combined cost of more than $240 million if reported terms are accurate.
After landing Sabathia on Wednesday, the Yankees began their aggressive pursuit of Burnett and immediately erased the belief that the Braves would eventually win the bidding for the 31-year-old veteran hurler, who notched a career-high 18 wins and led the American League with 231 strikeouts this past season.
While the rotation reconstruction process has gone smoothly for the Yankees, the same can't be said for the Braves, who provided Burnett with a reported five-year, $80 million offer.
"All I will say is that we made a very competitive offer," said Braves general manager Frank Wren, while only confirming that Burnett wouldn't be coming to Atlanta. "I would say geography was a primary factor."
When Wren returned from the Winter Meetings late Thursday night, Burnett's agent, Darek Braunecker, informed him that Burnett was having difficulty with his decision and needed more time.
One thing the Braves couldn't offer was a geographical overhaul that might have made Atlanta more appealing to Burnett's wife, Karen, who chooses not to fly.
Now she'll have the opportunity to take a three-hour train ride from their Baltimore-area home to see her husband in New York.
"We knew we couldn't move Maryland closer to Atlanta," Wren said. "We were swimming upstream all along."
Over the course of the past two months, the Braves have proven unsuccessful in their determined efforts to bring Jake Peavy and Burnett to Atlanta to serve as their ace. They now find themselves looking at a thinner free-agent market that is now highlighted by Derek Lowe, who may find himself as Yankees general manager Brian Cashman's next primary target.
Motivated by the fact that his club missed the playoffs for the first time since 1993, Cashman has cornered the top available free-agent starters. With Sabathia, he gained the top prize, and with Burnett he appears to have landed what might be the most profitable gamble.
During his eight full Major League seasons, Burnett has completed 200 innings just three times, totaled as many as 30 starts just twice and made 10 trips to the disabled list.
Whenever money has been on the horizon, Burnett has found a way to be both healthy and productive. Of the three seasons during which Burnett completed 200 innings, one preceded his first arbitration-eligible season and the other two came when he had an opportunity to test the free-agent market during the ensuing offseason.
Still with electric stuff that some have compared to that of John Smoltz during his younger days, Burnett drew tremendous interest from both the Yankees and Braves, ironically a pair of teams that just said goodbye to Carl Pavano and Mike Hampton, a pair of pitchers who have had their share of injury problems.
Braunecker says that his client is as healthy as he's been since undergoing Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery in 2003. Statistically, it's currently hard to argue with this assessment.
While making a career-high 34 starts for the Blue Jays this past season, Burnett went 18-10 with a 4.07 ERA. Fueling the interest that he gained this offseason was the fact that he went 9-2 with a 2.72 ERA and 113 strikeouts in his 15 starts after the All-Star break.
"A.J. Burnett has great stuff," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said recently. "I think he's matured a lot as a pitcher, as well. He's learned to control the running game a lot better. He attacks hitters and gets hitters out quickly, throws a lot of strikes, fields his position. I think he's much more complete as a pitcher than he was a couple of years ago."