Continuing right along on the free-agent starting pitcher carousel, the Texas Rangers should think about a one-year union with righty AJ Burnett.
There's a catch with Burnett, though. He might not even be available. According to this tweet from Jon Heyman of CBS Sports—h/t to Noah Jarosh of SB Nation—Burnett isn't certain if he'll pitch next season or retire from baseball.
Burnett is technically a free agent, but Jarosh reports that most people believe if he pitches next year it will be for the Pittsburgh Pirates, with whom he's pitched for the last two seasons.
Jarosh suggests that Burnett may not be in a rush to sign while other top free-agent starters—most notably Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Bronson Arroyo—are still on the market.
For the sake of options, let's assume Burnett decides he wants to pitch again in 2014 and that he's willing to listen to offers from at least most clubs. I have to imagine that things likely aren't "Pittsburgh or go home" for him if he has anything left in the tank.
The Rangers could benefit from adding Burnett to their rotation. Here's how.
Like Santana and Arroyo, Burnett's strongest selling point is his durability. He's 37 now, but he's made at least 30 starts in each of the past six seasons. He's surpassed 190 or more innings in five of those six years.
Burnett has never really been too efficient. He has had a tendency to focus on strikeouts, and this has oftentimes bloated his pitch count up to around 100 or more by the fifth or sixth inning. He does fan batters at a respectable rate. His strikeout totals have increased in each of the last four seasons.
But he is also prone to control issues. In two of the last five years, he's walked 83 or more batters. In 2010, he hit 19 batters. In 2011, he was victimized by the wild pitch, throwing 25 of them.
In 2013, he regained his status as a strikeout-per-inning pitcher, posting 209 punch-outs in 191 innings with the Pirates. All around, last year was one of Burnett's better seasons over his 15-year career.
Generally, Burnett has been very tough to hit consistently. He relies on plus velocity, even at an older age, and is primarily a fastball-curve pitcher. His heater has a lot of sinking action on it in addition to registering in the mid 90s.
His knuckle curve is hard and sweeping, usually clocking in the low 80s. He'll occasionally mix in a changeup and slider in the low to mid 80s.
Burnett has both above average velocity and movement, which explains why batters have only hit a shade over .242 off him over his career. Compared to Arroyo and Santana, he also allows fewer long balls on average.
As a bonus, Burnett has pitched very effectively in Arlington. In seven career starts and 42.1 innings, Ranger batters have only hit .244 off him. He also features a 2.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio at Rangers Ballpark. Among all American League parks, Rangers Ballpark is home to Burnett's second-lowest opponents' batting average.
As a short-term fix, Burnett makes a lot of sense for Texas. Derek Holland is slated to return to the rotation by the All-Star break if not sooner. If the Rangers feel confident in Nick Tepesch, Robbie Ross and other young arms to potentially crack into the rotation by next season, a one-year bridge deal for a veteran like Burnett is sensible.
He can man a spot at the back end of the rotation and eat innings. From there, its's all about just keeping the Rangers' offense in the game. Additionally, Burnett's signing does not require forfeiting a draft pick.
Last but certainly not least, Burnett has World Series experience as a member of the 2009 New York Yankees' rotation. He won and lost a start against the Philadelphia Phillies in that year's Fall Classic. He would be a valuable voice of experience in the Rangers' rotation.
Two obvious concerns with Burnett, though: age and price.
Over the last two seasons in Pittsburgh, Burnett made $33 million—$16.5 million in each season. The Yankees paid a total of $20 million of that two-year salary. If Burnett is to be persuaded to pitch next season, he'll likely want close to that same price, maybe a little less.
A team other than the Pirates might have to pay a bit more if the consensus about him is true. Would the Rangers be willing to open another Lance Berkman-type experiment? Burnett probably has more value off the top than Berkman had when Texas signed him, but that's a tough call.
At 37, it isn't a guarantee that Burnett can keep up the impressive durability he's shown over his career. Nothing substantial says he couldn't, but I would trust a guy like Arroyo more to stay healthy over the term of a deal.
Still, the Rangers should offer Burnett a one-year, $10 million deal with incentives based on innings pitched that could push the deal to $13 to $14 million. A buyout clause could probably be included to protect the team from potential disaster with him.
If he bites on that, the Rangers have themselves a guy who should give them at least 180 innings with good velocity and stuff as a no. 4 or 5. Most importantly, they would fill a team need without entering into a long and burdening contract.
If he doesn't like those terms, the team can easily pursue other avenues for pitching depth.
But at this point, it would be wise for GM Jon Daniels to keep all of his options open.
*All stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com
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