Breaking Down Top A.J. Burnett Suitors, Potential 2014 Impact
At last, the question of whether A.J. Burnett will retire or return to pitch in 2014 has been answered. Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh-Tribune Review is reporting that, according to a source, the 37-year-old Burnett will indeed return for his 16th big league season.
Not only did the source confirm Burnett's desire to pitch in 2014, he suspects that the right-hander, who posted a 3.30 ERA with 3.2 BB/9 and a league-leading 9.8 K/9 in 191 innings pitched last season, will test the open market and not limit himself to a return to Pittsburgh.
While Burnett has stated his desire to remain with the Pirates—he was quoted last offseason as saying he wouldn't want to pitch anywhere else but Pittsburgh if he resumed his playing career after 2013—he's much more likely to land a bigger contract elsewhere or, if anything, drive up the Pirates' price with multiple teams bidding on his services.
Here are five teams that could have the most interest in adding Burnett to the front of their rotation in 2014.
If not Pittsburgh, the Baltimore Orioles have to be Burnett's most likely landing spot.
Not only have the O's been linked to him in several rumors—general manager Dan Duquette confirmed that he spoke with Burnett's agent at the winter meetings and would like to speak with the right-hander if he wanted to pitch in 2014, according to Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com, while Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun was told by a source that he'd be at the top of the team's list if he returned—Burnett lives in Maryland with his family and has stated his preference to remain close to home.
Whether the Orioles have been waiting for asking prices to drop or just waiting for Burnett to make up his mind is unclear. They likely wouldn't have to give Burnett more than a one-year deal, however, which could be preferable to signing Bronson Arroyo, who Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe says is seeking a three-year deal.
With so many young and talented starters, including Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman and Eduardo Rodriguez, expected to compete for rotation spots in 2015 and possibly sooner, adding a veteran on a multi-year deal could block their path and keep the O's from building a cost-effective team from within.
In regard to 2014, the addition of Burnett would set them up quite well in terms of pitching depth and in reliability at the top of the rotation, as well as allowing Gausman to begin the season in Triple-A or pitch out of the bullpen.
Here's what the projected Orioles rotation would look like with Burnett:
1 A.J. Burnett, RHP
2 Chris Tillman, RHP
3 Wei-Yin Chen, LHP
4 Bud Norris, RHP
5 Miguel Gonzalez, RHP/Kevin Gausman, RHP
Jayson Stark of ESPN tweeted last week that the Philadelphia Phillies would have interest in Burnett if he continues his playing career. And while general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. confirmed recently that he had no outstanding major league offers to free-agent pitchers, according to Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News, he also says that "it remains to be seen" if they're done adding.
Now that Burnett has made himself available, the Phillies should be considered a strong candidate until they make it clear that they aren't interested. They are also close to his hometown of Monkton, Maryland and are also in the same state (Pennsylvania) as the team in which he had a career revival over the past two seasons.
So if not the Pirates, why not the Phillies?
Their hitter-friendly confines, for one, could be a reason, although Burnett's stellar ground-ball and strikeout rates make it difficult to see him struggling in any ballpark as long as he can continue pitching at the same level.
Signing Burnett would likely end up pushing Cuban Miguel Gonzalez or newly signed Roberto Hernandez out of the projected rotation, though the extra depth would be considered a good thing, and the Phillies aren't exactly a team looking to the future. After back-to-back disappointing seasons, they want to return to the playoffs in 2014, and replacing Gonzalez or Hernandez with Burnett is a big step in the right direction.
Here's what the projected Phillies rotation would look like with Burnett:
1 Cliff Lee, LHP
2 A.J. Burnett, RHP
3 Cole Hamels, LHP
4 Kyle Kendrick, RHP
5 Roberto Hernandez, RHP
Spending $5 million to make Edinson Volquez your fifth starter while passing on A.J. Burnett at a rate that will likely end up being $7-10 million more could result in one of the most regretful set of moves in recent history. And yet, it's what could very well happen if Burnett follows the money and the Pirates aren't comfortable paying him what he's worth on the open market.
According to general manager Neal Huntington, in comments passed along by Charlie Wilmoth of BucsDugout.com back in November, the team would not be able to give Burnett a "market-value deal," as would be the case with many teams.
With prices appearing to have dropped, however, we can't rule out a reunion between the two sides.
What Huntington could have been referring to as market-value in November could have been a perceived $20 million-per-season asking price for top free-agent starters. Now that Matt Garza has signed for $12.5 million per season with the Milwaukee Brewers, Burnett could be more affordable than originally suspected.
Here's what the projected Pirates rotation would look like if Burnett were re-signed:
1 A.J. Burnett, RHP
2 Francisco Liriano, LHP
3 Gerrit Cole, RHP
4 Charlie Morton, RHP
5 Wandy Rodriguez, LHP
New York Yankees
The last time A.J. Burnett pitched for the New York Yankees, things did not end well. After a solid first season that concluded with a World Series title, Burnett had two of his worst seasons as a pro before he was traded to Pittsburgh, where he starred while having the majority of his remaining contract picked up by the Yankees.
Why would the Yankees want him back? Because, despite the addition of Masahiro Tanaka and the re-signing of Hiroki Kuroda, their starting rotation does not appear to be a major strength with Ivan Nova and a long list of unproven young pitchers expected to fill out the back of the rotation. And maybe Burnett is just a much better pitcher now than he was back in 2010-2011.
OK, but why would Burnett want to return? New York does fit his criteria for being relatively close to home, plus they'll make three trips to Baltimore during the season. They'd also be considered playoff contenders, especially if he were to sign.
Lastly, and probably most importantly, he's a highly competitive athlete who very likely hates the fact that he's viewed as a bust on a team that paid him a total of $69.5 million for one pretty good season. Give him the opportunity to reverse that perception, as well as a nice $14-16 million payday, and I'm certain he'd be open to a return.
Here's what the projected Yankees rotation would look like with Burnett in the mix:
1 CC Sabathia, LHP
2 A.J. Burnett, RHP
3 Masahiro Tanaka, RHP
4 Hiroki Kuorda, RHP
5 Ivan Nova, RHP
Toronto Blue Jays
Not as near in proximity to the aforementioned teams, Toronto is still relatively close to Burnett's Maryland home and will be taking three separate road trips to Baltimore during the 2014 season. Burnett is also quite familiar with the Blue Jays, having had three successful seasons with the team from 2006-2008 (38-26, 3.94 ERA, 3.3 BB/9, 9.0 K/9).
The Jays, who have yet to add a starting pitcher during an offseason in which they've been known to be seeking one, would clearly have to outbid the others since Burnett doesn't appear to have any reason to give them a discount. Baltimore and Pittsburgh could have that advantage, although that's also not a certainty.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos isn't comfortable with the prices he's been given for current free agents, according to Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca, and he could feel the same about Burnett's initial asking price. But it's likely he'd come cheaper than either Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana, and he also wouldn't require a multi-year deal.
Here's what the projected Blue Jays rotation would look like with Burnett:
1 R.A. Dickey, RHP
2 A.J. Burnett, RHP
3 Mark Buehrle, LHP
4 Brandon Morrow, RHP
5 J.A. Happ, LHP