A.J. Burnett Rumors

NL Central Links: Burnett, Hammel, Hoyer, Cueto

The Pirates had the inside track on signing A.J. Burnett, as agent Derek Braunecker told Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.  “It’s the only place he wanted to play in 2015. He instructed me to negotiate exclusively with the Pirates and thankfully there was mutual interest,” Braunecker said.  Burnett enjoyed his previous stint in Pittsburgh and rejoined the Bucs on a one-year, $8.5MM deal.  Here’s some more from around the NL Central…

  • Mutual interest exists between the Cubs and free agent righty Jason Hammel, CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney reports.  Hammel pitched well during his three months as a Cub in 2014 prior to being traded to the A’s, and Mooney points out yet another connection between the two sides — Hammel played under Joe Maddon in Tampa in 2008.  At least nine teams and as many as 12 teams have reportedly shown interest in Hammel this offseason, including the Astros and Yankees.
  • The Cubs‘ trade for Tommy La Stellawasn’t a precursor to anything,” GM Jed Hoyer told reporters (including ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers).  “Sometimes you have to acquire guys that can get on-base. It’s something we needed.”  The La Stella deal seemed curious given how the Cubs already have a surplus of young middle infielders, though Hoyer said his team had tried to trade for La Stella “several times in the past.”
  • It’s an open question as to whether or not the Reds will sign Johnny Cueto to a new contract, though an extension shouldn’t be ruled out on purely financial reasons, John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer opines.  Though Fay thinks extending Cueto would cost “probably north of $150MM,” the Reds will be seeing a revenue increase over the next few years thanks to a new TV deal.  If Cueto will take a back-loaded deal, that would lessen the burden on the Reds’ payroll until Brandon Phillips‘ contract is off the books following the 2017 campaign.
  • Fay thinks there is a “close to zero” chance that the Reds would trade Cueto this winter, since “owner Bob Castellini is not going to have a fire sale. Period.  He thinks this team can win and he wants to win badly.”  While Cincinnati seems likely to deal a starting pitcher this offseason, recent rumors suggest that Cueto will stay put.
  • The Cardinals should jump at the chance to acquire a power-hitting outfielder and not worry about blocking their young OF prospects, Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch opines.  Miklasz feels the Cardinals have some long-term questions in their outfield since Jon Jay is “a year-to-year” player who almost lost his job last offseason, right field prospects Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk are unproven and veteran Matt Holliday is only under contract for two more seasons.

Quick Hits: Tigers, Yankees, Burnett, Hellickson

The Tigers are a team built to win in the present, but that doesn’t mean their future has to be bleak, Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs writes. The team’s recent four-year deal for Victor Martinez is one of many Tigers contracts that could turn ugly, and the team already has $75MM on the books in 2018 for Martinez, Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander. But that doesn’t mean they won’t have any flexibility. Considering the likelihood of modest payroll increases in the coming seasons, they could have a payroll north of $180MM in 2018. That would give them enough leeway to have a shot even with their current commitments and thin farm system. Sullivan suggests that one future-oriented move the Tigers could make would be to sign J.D. Martinez to a long-term deal. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.

  • Yankees first baseman Greg Bird has been named the MVP of the Arizona Fall League. Bird, a fifth-round pick out of high school in 2011, hit .271/.376/.472 in a 2014 season split between Class A+ Tampa and Double-A Trenton. Bird then hit .313/.391/.556 in 26 games with the Scottsdale Scorpions. The 22-year-old Bird isn’t on the same level as the previous winner, Cubs super-prospect Kris Bryant, but he could still potentially play his way onto the Yankees roster at some point in 2015.
  • Re-signing David Robertson is the Yankees’ highest priority this offseason, Bill Madden of the New York Daily News writes. The Royals’ success shows how important a good bullpen can be, and how much a good ‘pen can do to help starters who don’t rack up high innings totals. With Robertson, Dellin Betances, Adam Warren, Jacob Lindgren, Shawn Kelley and new acquisition Justin Wilson, the Yankees could have one of the stronger bullpens in the Majors in 2015, Madden writes. On the flip side, the Yankees would like to re-sign starter Brandon McCarthy, but they think they’ll be able to replace him if another team outbids them.
  • A.J. Burnett is a back-end starter at this point, but his new discount contract is still a good one for the Pirates, Dave Cameron of Fangraphs writes. The deal is only for one year, and it’s likely to produce about 1.5 WAR in value, which is a solid rate for an $8.5MM contract. Meanwhile, the Pirates’ homer-suppressing ballpark, defensive shifting and emphasis on pitch framing make Pittsburgh a great destination for pitchers.
  • Dave Stewart of the Diamondbacks sees Jeremy Hellickson as “a number two or number three starter,” Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic writes. The prospects the Diamondbacks sent to the Rays, Justin Williams and Andrew Velazquez, both have potential. (Williams hit .351/.403/.437 in 320 plate appearances in rookie ball and at Class A South Bend this season, impressive numbers for an 18-year-old at any level.) But for Stewart, Hellickson’s talent was more important, and he can help the Diamondbacks now. They could both be All-Stars, but from our standpoint they’re three or four years away from being major league players,” says Stewart. “We have an opportunity to get a good starter to put in our rotation now and go along with our plans for our team with the 2015 season.”

Central Notes: Burnett, Kluber, Cardinals

A.J. Burnett will prove to be a bargain for the Pirates, Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. The Pirates have a great record with recent free agents like Russell Martin and Edinson Volquez, and Burnett is still a strikeout pitcher. He’ll also be recovered from a hernia issue that dogged him in 2014, and he’ll have a more favorable ballpark and defense than he had in Philadelphia. Here are more notes from the Central divisions.

  • Potential offseason extension candidates include NL Central and AL Central players like Josh Harrison of the Pirates, Corey Kluber of the Indians, and Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas of the Royals, Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com writes. It will be awhile before Kluber can really cash in on his AL Cy Young award win, Castrovince notes — he isn’t eligible for free agency until after 2018, by which point he’ll be heading into his age-33 season. Extending him now would give the Indians cost certainty through his arbitration seasons. As Castrovince points out, extensions for Harrison, Hosmer and Moustakas don’t appear that likely — the Pirates would probably like to see how Harrison performs in 2015, and Hosmer and Moustakas are represented by Scott Boras, who may prefer to see what his players might get in free agency in a few years. Also, neither Hosmer nor Moustakas were nearly as impressive in the regular season as they were in the playoffs.
  • GM John Mozeliak says the Cardinals aren’t heavily involved in the market for Asian players right now, Fangraphs’ David Laurila tweets. Mozeliak does add that the Cardinals can’t totally ignore that market, however. The GM’s answer came in response to a question about Japanese phenom Shohei Otani, who struck out 179 batters in 155 1/3 innings and threw 101 MPH as a pitcher, as well as hitting .274/.338/.505 as an outfielder for the Nippon Ham Fighters last season. Otani is probably many years away from playing in the US, if he ever does, but MLB scouts are keeping an eye on him, for obvious reasons.


Pirates Sign A.J. Burnett

The Pirates announced that they have signed right-hander A.J. Burnett to a one-year deal. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the Frontline Athlete Management client will receive an $8.5MM guarantee (Twitter link).

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Burnett, who turns 38 in January, spent the 2012-13 seasons with the Pirates and revitalized his career in black and gold while helping the Bucs to end a historic playoff drought. However, the Pirates declined to make him a qualifying offer following that season and didn’t feel they were able to offer him a salary commensurate with his market value, which proved to be true, as he signed a one-year, $16MM contract with the Phillies. That contract contained a mutual option that vested as a player option, but Burnett turned down a guaranteed $12.75MM from the Phils to take $4.25MM less and return to Pittsburgh — a team and environment of which he spoke fondly even after his departure.

After posting a combined 3.41 ERA with 8.9 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in 393 1/3 innings as a Pirate, Burnett struggled in Philadelphia, posting a 4.59 ERA in 213 2/3 innings. Burnett’s walk rate spiked while his ground-ball and strikeout rates dipped, resulting in the inflated ERA and an NL-worst 18 losses (though the Phillies’ poor team performance obviously impacted that last number). Burnett pitched the entire season with a hernia that required offseason surgery — another likely factor in his 2014 struggles.

Burnett will return to a Pittsburgh rotation that faces the potential losses of both Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez, who are now free agents. He’ll slot in behind Gerrit Cole and perhaps Vance Worley and Jeff Locke, though the Pirates figure to be active in seeking to add other experienced arms to the 2015 rotation. A return to the Pirates could boost Burnett’s performance, as the move will again pair him with pitching coach Ray Searage and an infield that is known to be above the most aggressive in baseball, in terms of shifting (a welcome sight for Burnett’s ground-ball generating arsenal).

One question for Burnett is whether or not he will again be throwing to the talented Russell Martin, who is a free agent as well and is expected to be too expensive for the Pirates to retain. The Bucs recently acquired Francisco Cervelli from the Yankees, who could pair with Chris Stewart to form this year’s catching tandem for manager Clint Hurdle if Martin is not retained.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Latest On A.J. Burnett

10:50am: A team source disputes that any offer was made to Burnett, tweets Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun.

10:15am: The Orioles have extended an offer to free agent righty A.J. Burnett, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reports on Twitter. Though nothing is close at the moment, Passan notes that Baltimore will be a player in the starting pitching market.

Baltimore was strongly rumored to be a destination for Burnett last year, before he signed on with the Phillies. That was due in large part to the fact that the veteran was said to prefer to pitch for a team close to his Maryland home. This time around, however, he is said to be willing to play anywhere for a contender.

The O’s had a surprisingly effective rotation last year, in spite of the struggles of major free agent signee Ubaldo Jimenez. In terms of bottom-line results, the club’s rotation landed at the back end of the top dozen teams by measure of earned run average. ERA estimators, however, were generally less favorably inclined.


Sherman On Burnett, Josh Johnson, Johan Santana

The latest from Joel Sherman of the New York Post…

  • Sherman notes that in the past, A.J. Burnett signed close to his Maryland home because his wife hated flying.  However, agent Darek Braunecker says this is no longer a restriction.  Sherman mentions previous interest from the Angels and Rangers.  Burnett is wise to expand his market, since teams like the Orioles, Mets, and Nationals are not generally looking to add starting pitching.
  • The Padres are working to re-sign Josh Johnson.  They already declined a $4MM option on the righty, who had Tommy John surgery in late April.  No deal is close for Johnson, tweets Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish.
  • The Dodgers have let teams know they prefer to trade Andre Ethier and/or Carl Crawford and will listen on Matt Kemp.  The Dodgers are willing to kick in cash or take a bad contract back, and will pay more down for a better return in players.  This is one of the few ways teams can still use financial clout to purchase young talent, in my opinion.  Sherman says the Dodgers feel their current outfield situation is untenable, which fits with Ken Rosenthal’s report from Sunday.  In a poll of 28 baseball industry insiders by ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, Ethier was considered the most likely to be traded.
  • The Dodgers are also looking to add to their rotation and bullpen and are among the more interested suitors for Russell Martin.  The Dodgers were one of four teams recently revealed to have a meeting in place with Martin’s agent.
  • Johan Santana is “hellbent on coming back,” agent Chris Leible tells Sherman.  Santana, 36 in March, was close to returning to the Majors with the Orioles last summer after April 2013 shoulder surgery, but he ruptured his Achilles tendon in June.  Santana is currently jogging and playing catch.

NL East Notes: Stanton, Mets, Nationals, Tomas, Hamels

As expected, the Marlins have begun extension talks with star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reports on Twitter. President of baseball operations Michael Hill tells Spencer that the team has “reached out” to Stanton’s representatives and that “negotiations are ongoing.”

Here’s more from the NL East:

  • At present, the Mets are more inclined to fill their needs in the corner outfield via trade than through a free agent signing, reports Marc Carig of Newsday. New York is still hesitant to give up any of its best young talent in a swap. But veterans like Michael Morse, Alex Rios, and Torii Hunter all seem more like fallback options that the team would pursue if value can be had and nothing better has materialized. The Mets are said to prefer to add a right-handed bat.
  • One other hypothetical possibility, Nick Markakis, is not presently engaged with the team in any way, according to Matt Ehalt of The Record (Twitter link).
  • As they weigh their options at second, the Nationals are not unmindful of the Cuban market that has begun to materialize in recent weeks, James Wagner of the Washington Post reports. The primary possible targets, per Wagner, are 26-year-old Jose Fernandez and high-upside youngster Yoan Moncada. The 20-year-old Moncada will draw immense interest, with Ben Badler of Baseball America saying he is talented enough that he would be the odds-on favorite to go first overall in this year’s amateur draft (were he eligible).
  • The Phillies are still the favorite to land Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, with A.J. Burnett‘s decision to decline his option possibly burnishing Philly’s chances. That does not mean they are without competition, of course. Other clubs that have seen (or will soon see) Tomas since his showcase include the Rangers, D’backs, Giants, Dodgers, Padres, Red Sox, and Mariners.
  • Also per Heyman, the Phillies could clear yet more payroll space and add young talent through a deal for pitcher Cole Hamels, with the Cubs still showing interest in the lefty.

A.J. Burnett Declines Player Option

Phillies starter A.J. Burnett has declined his player option, the Phillies announced. By turning down his $12.75MM option, Burnett will become a free agent.

Burnett’s decision was one of the more closely-watched option situations around the game, in large part because the outcome was unclear. The Phillies have recently made clear they intend to focus the organization’s energies on rebuilding for the future rather than competing in the near-term, and that — combined with his experiences last year — may have encouraged Burnett to leave the cash on the table.

Indeed, from Philadelphia’s perspective, the savings on Burnett appear to constitute a nice opportunity. As MLBTR’s Brad Johnson wrote in his outlook for the Phils, the decision swing open a significant bit of space between the team’s current obligations and the luxury tax line.

For Burnett, the decision leaves him free to pursue a deal with a contending club, and his agent tells Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (Twitter link) that he’ll do just that. Of course, Burnett presumably still carries his preference for joining a team within range of his Maryland home.

Burnett is not quite the commodity he was last year — his 4.59 ERA/4.14 FIP/3.95 xFIP/4.00 SIERA campaign does not have nearly the luster that last year’s 3.30/2.80/2.92/3.03 numbers did. And he is a year older, entering his age-38 campaign. On the other hand, he again posted big innings totals and did pitch through a sports hernia for most of the year.


Phillies, A.J. Burnett Decline Mutual Option

The Phillies and A.J. Burnett have each declined their sides of the right-hander’s $15MM option for 2015, The Associated Press reports.  This expected move leaves Burnett until Monday to decide whether or not to exercise his $12.75MM player option for next season.

Burnett has considered retirement in recent years, though latest rumors have him leaning towards pitching in 2015 and Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. believes the veteran will return.  Burnett posted a 4.59 ERA, 1.98 K/BB rate and 190 strikeouts over 213 2/3 IP last season, a step back from his strong performances with Pittsburgh in 2012-13, though Burnett’s track record would still net him plenty of attention on the free agent market (if perhaps not at a $12.75MM price tag).  While he would undoubtedly prefer to pitch for a contender rather than a rebuilding club like the Phillies, Burnett has been vocal about wanting to play for a team close to his Maryland home, so he could decide to just pick up his player option and remain in Philadelphia.


NL East Notes: Braves Catcher, Burnett, Tomas

Who will catch for the Braves in 2015? It’s liable to be a question of interest all offseason long as several roster moves could depend on the outcome. David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution explores the conundrum. We’ve previously seen speculation that the Braves will deal Evan Gattis to an AL club so defense-first prospect Christian Bethancourt can start. Alternatively, the club could deal an outfielder and move Gattis to left field. While there are a lot moving parts to consider, it’s hard to ignore both Jason Heyward and Justin Upton are set to become free agents following the season and will be expensive to re-sign. Meanwhile, Gattis will earn around $600k next season and is club controlled through 2018.

  • Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. cited changes in Jerome Williams‘ approach and rotation depth as reasons for yesterday’s contract extension, reports Todd Zolecki of MLB.com. Depth is certainly an issue for the Phillies rotation. Cliff Lee ended the season on the disabled list, Kyle Kendrick is a free agent, and only Cole Hamels and David Buchanan finished the season healthy. Another possible factor, A.J. Burnett, is weighing a mutual option. When asked about Burnett, Amaro said, “my inclination is that he’s going to want to pitch. He’s a competitive guy.”
  • Yasmany Tomas makes a lot of sense for a number of teams, but insiders are pointing to the Phillies as the current front runners, according to Andy Martino of the New York Daily News. Martino spoke with a rival executive who noted the Phillies have the money to reach a deal with Tomas – which could possibly reach nine figures. More to the point, they have a thin farm system and a desire to turn around quickly. That could make the Cuban market more attractive for the club. Another source said to Martino, “don’t count out the Tigers.”