To Booo or Not To Booo: AJ Burnett’s Comeback to Toronto
The stars aligned for tomorrow night’s matchup at the Rogers Center. Not only does Tuesday mark the return of former Blue Jay AJ Burnett, but he is confronted with the task of pitching against his former team mate, mentor, and current best pitcher in the league, Roy Halladay.
The story of Burnett facing off against Halladay is filled with typical mentor vs pupil cliches, which is how the Blue Jays are marketing the game.
Before Burnett came to Toronto, he was admittedly, a “thrower”. By the time he left the pwoder blues to don pinstripes, Halladay, helped mould Burnett into a “pitcher.” Halladay cannot be credited for the only person responsible for transforming Burnett. Blue Jays’ pitching coach, Brad Arnsberg, was also a big part of Burnett’s tutelage. Burnett’s transformation is evidenced by a career year in 2008. He threw a career high 221 innings, won a career high 18 wins and struck out 231 batters, which was not only a career high, but led the AL.
Therefore, going into tomorrow’s game in Toronto, should Blue Jays booooo! or cheer AJ Burnett, who essentially left Toronto, where he developed his game for greener pastures?
On the exterior, the answer seems obvious. Blue Jays reserve their right to booo! Burnett. An argument can be made that Burnett simply used the resources available to him from the Blue Jays to make himself a better pitcher, in order to eventually get a bigger pay day from another team. It just so happens that he had a career year with the Blue Jays the same year he was eligible to opt out of his five year contract.
After being paid $11 million per year with the Blue Jays, he signed with the Yankees for 5 years/$82.5 million. Therefore, his departure from Toronto could be perceived as an act of greed, which will surely add more fuel to the fire that burns in the bellies of Jays fans.
In addition, Burnett chose to sign with an AL East rival and uber-hated organization, New York Yankees.
However, I will be attendance tomorrow and will go against the general public opinion, and cheer AJ Burnett. He was a great pitcher for the Jays (when he pitched) and more importantly, he was a great team mate. He could have easily been one of those high priced pitchers with a tremendous amount of attitude, but he was not. He united the pitching staff and showed the young arms of the rotation, Jesse Litsch, Dustin Mcgowan and Shawn Marcum, the ropes.
Throughout Burnett’s time in Toronto, he had one objective – to win. He wanted to win and believed that the Blue Jays had a championship team going into the 2006 season, which persuaded him to sign in Toronto.
His attitude remains the same. He wants to win. This is why he signed with the New York Yankees. With the additions of CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira, on paper, the Yankees are a championship team. This, combined with the fact the the Blue Jays were falling further behind in the AL East, justified his decision to move on.
Obviously, at this point of the season, things have not exactly gone as planned. The Yankees are stuggled to play .500 baseball, and the Jays currently are the leaders of the AL East.
Secondly, the Blue Jays fans and organization knew what they were getting into when GM JP Riccardi signed Burnett. Historically, he was an injury prone pitcher, who could be dominant when healthy. Burnett was never consistently healthy until last season. Jays fans can complain about Burnett’s health, but they should have known what to expect when Burnett put pen on paper.
The final and most important reason why Blue Jays fans should temper their booing Tuesday evening is because of an opt out clause that Riccardi added to Burnett’s contract. This clause allowed Burnett to opt out of his contract after three years of the five year contract. The clause was the only one of its kind awarded to a player and gave the player total control. Evidently, Burnett exercised his right and opted out. It was an incintive that Riccardi was forced to add to Burnett’s contract to persuade him to sign in Toronto. Riccardi clearly believed that Burnett was a missing piece in his lineup and did anything to sign Burnett – including giving him autonomy.
So there you have it Blue Jays fans. Pick an argument and wear it on your sleeve Tueday evening at the Rogers Center. As mentioned, I will stand and applaud for Burnett when he is announced; however, I hope he gets ripped because I bleed powder blue. There is nothing more I want than Halladay pitching a gem and Burnett coming to the realization that he left a very good bunch of guys who are now winning without him.
Let’s Go Blue Jays.