Way back when I was still a kid, during the Pirates three-year run as NL East Champions, my brother called me one morning all excited because the Pirates had acquired Kirk Gibson in a minor offseason deal. Gibson was far removed from his fist-pumping game-winning home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, but my brother said, "I can't believe they got him! He's a name, baby! I mean, that's someone that we know!" He was aw-struck at the thought of the Pirates getting Gibson even though they were already one of the most talented teams in baseball with Barry Bonds, Andy Van Slyke and Doug Drabek, and Gibson was going to be just a role player on the team.
Just last week, some twenty years later, my brother called me on the phone again all excited about the rumors of the Pirates maybe landing A.J. Burnett from the Yankees. Once again, he said, "man, that's someone we know. He was one of the best pitchers in baseball at one time."
That's my brother, he hasn't changed a bit. A player could be so broken down that he needs a walker to get to the ballpark, but if he has a recognizable name on the back of his jersey, my brother gets all giddy.
Unlike those Pirates teams from the early 90's, however, I can kind of see why my bro would get excited over Burnett coming to Pittsburgh. It's not often that the Pirates are involved with a trade with the Yankees, and that they're the team that's acquiring the high-priced veteran in exchange for some lower-level prospects. But as I've said before, this just smells like the same old crap.
I'm a bit sensitive to this kind of thing after so many years of seeing it happen over and over again. Someone mentioned the other day that anytime someone says, "I'm a long-suffering Pirates fan" they stop paying attention. Well, I'm sorry, but I am, and after eating crap for the last two-decades, the second I think someone is trying to shovel more of it down my throat, my gag reflex kicks in big-time.
I don't really blame the Pirates for this, it's the system of baseball. When a certain player is in the prime of his career, he goes to the highest-bidder (Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies) and signs a mega-contract. Once that player reaches another point in his career, better known as the latter stages, he tries to hang on for a few more years, usually with a struggling team (Pirates, Royals) that's looking to recapture the magic that the player once had.
Call me crazy, but I get the feeling A.J. Burnett is in the latter-stages of his career, and other than eating up some innings, I don't see where he's going to benefit the Pirates a whole heck of a lot.
Is he still a functional starter? I guess it all depends on what you mean by functional.
Ever go to the Sports Deli in Parkway Center Mall? It's a place where they sell sports memorabilia. Right outside the store, they have a table with discounted items on it like a "Tommy Gun" t-shirt, for example. Who would buy that shirt? Tommy Maddox was a sensation with the Steelers nearly ten seasons ago.
If you did actually buy a "Tommy Gun" t-shirt, where would you wear it? I suppose you could wear it to paint your house, and it might come in handy if you wanted to go to a Halloween party dressed like Tommy, but other than that, there really is no use for it in your daily rotation of shirts.
As a Pirates fan, that's how I feel about any transaction that involves a guy in his mid-30's.
The Burnett of five years ago would have been great to have in the daily rotation, but now? I hope I'm wrong.
This Burnett trade just smells like Derek Belle and Jeromy Burnitz all over again. As a fan, I'm always asking, "why couldn't these guys have come to the Pirates in their prime?" And some hot-shot baseball guy will always retort, "because when they were in their prime, they would never come to the Pirates."
And people wonder why I'm cynical about this kind of stuff.
Burnett had his career year in 2008, that's a really long time ago in baseball years.
In my opinion, if the Pirates can't acquire guys like Burnett when they're their prime, don't acquire them at all. If they're still hanging on at the ends of their careers, trying to latch on with a team like the Buccos just so they can earn a few more pay-checks, I'd say, "sorry, you had your chance. Don't let the door hit you in the butt on the way out."
I just get the feeling a lot of Pirates fans are excited about Burnett because of what he once did, and not what he may do in the future.
I know my brother is.