After keeping the Pirates and the rest of the baseball world in wait for nearly the entirety of the offseason, veteran free agent A.J. Burnett has decided to pitch in 2014, a source close to the situation told the Tribune-Review.
Burnett's decision to return does not mean he will limit himself to pitching for the Pirates, though Burnett indicated that was his preference last season. The 37-year-old Burnett led the National League in groundball rate and strikeout rate last season showing no signs of diminishing skills. The Phillies and Orioles also have reportedly expressed interest in Burnett.
Burnett could be a good fit for the Rangers who will start the season without veteran left-handed pitcher Derek Holland. Holland suffered a knee injury while playing with his dog, per multiple sources. According to the Rangers' depth chart via the team website, Holland was slated to be the No. 2 starter.
Burnett certainly fits the mold of a pitcher wanting success at the hitter's friendly Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. In 2013, Burnett had a 56.5 percent ground ball rate which was first in the NL , and he struck out 209 batters which was No. 10 in the MLB.
Phillies and Orioles had also reportedly expressed interest in A.J. Burnett, who makes offseason home in Maryland— Travis Sawchik (@Sawchik_Trib) January 28, 2014
At 37-years old, Burnett might be a liability because of age. However, the Rangers did bring in veteran Joe Nathan two seasons ago, days before his 37th birthday. A one-year deal might be enough for Burnett to fill the roll of the No. 4 or No. 5 starter if someone like Robbie Ross or Colby Lewis doesn't rise up during spring training. If he can replicate his stats from the previous two seasons, signing Burnett will have been a smart move by general manager Jon Daniels, if he chooses to pursue the starting pitcher.