I don’t mean this the way you think. Time and time again during A.J. Burnett‘s rocky tenure in pinstripes it seemed like he was the missing piece. Often the Yankees were one more dominant pitcher away from being in the World Series, or found themselves with their season potentially on the line and A.J. on the mound. As a result, he was the secret ingredient helping the Yankees to advance in the playoffs or preventing them from succeeding.
A.J.’s role as the make or break player was logical. Most playoff teams have at least one dominant starter to face off against CC Sabathia. Often times the difference between the good and great teams is the second dominant starter. When Burnett could fill that role the Yankees won the World Series. Once he stopped being able to pitch well the team went out of its way to deny him playoff starts and always seemed a starter short. Now that Burnett is gone from the team, which player will take over his spot as the player the Yankees need to push them over the hump? Allow me to put forward three candidates:
Pineda is a logical candidate because he will take over the number two slot in the rotation, Burnett’s old job. If he lives up to his potential, then he will give the Yankees a one-two punch with CC at the top of their rotation that most teams won’t be able to match. As a result, he will often find himself on the mound the day after a big win, in a situation where a second consecutive victory may win the Yankees a series, or put a dagger in the heart of a playoff opponent.
Kuroda remains the forgotten acquisition on the Yankees this offseason. He shouldn’t be. In 2009 Andy Pettitte, the Yankees number three starter, won each of the team’s deciding playoff games. That role may likely accrue to Kuroda this coming season. His success will give the team yet another weapon in the rotation while taking pressure off Pineda.
This is a critical season for A-Rod. The numbers don’t lie. His performance has declined every season since 2007. His injuries are mounting. In 2011 he played fewer than 100 games and managed only 16 homers. As a result, the Yankees learned to succeed without Alex at full strength, or without him at all. If A-Rod is able to come back and be the player he was in 2011 before he got hurt then the Yankees will have as devastating a lineup as they did in 2009. As a position player, Alex’s success is arguably more important than a pitcher’s. After all, he was the guy who struck out to end each of the last two Yankee seasons.