When the New York Yankees traded for pitcher Britt Burns last winter, they were assuming many risks -- a player the Chicago White Sox had to force to stay in shape each winter, one who hadn't won as consistently as his pitches suggested he should and one with a chronically sore hip.

You win your gambles and you lose your gambles. This one smoked the Yankees.

Burns showed up grossly out of shape, and was on the mound about 15 minutes when his hip began to hurt. The Yankees say Burns won't pitch anymore this season and might have surgery. Privately, they're saying he'll probably never pitch again.

The Yankees might still be the American League East's strongest team, but their starting rotation of Ron Guidry (35 years old), Joe Niekro (41), Phil Niekro (46) and Ed Whitson (30) is old and fragile. They're gambling a fifth starter will come from a group that includes Tommy John, John Montefusco, Bob Tewksbury and Doug Drabek.

If someone breaks down -- and that is no small possibility -- the Yankees are in trouble.

"There are three or four teams in this division that could be great or mediocre," an American League scout said this week.