A.J. Burnett Rumors

NL Central Links: Pirates, Burnett, Cardinals, Peavy

The Pirates are not on A.J. Burnett‘s 20-team no-trade clause (as outlined by ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick earlier today), and they are his preferred destination if the Phillies choose to move him, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (Twitter links). As I speculated in this morning’s post on his no-trade clause, however, Rosenthal notes that Burnett’s complex mutual/player option may be a deterrent for the Bucs, as Burnett could potentially be a spendy acquisition if he makes a full season’s worth of starts. Nonetheless, Pirates players are lobbying with the front office in an attempt to persuade GM Neal Huntington and his staff to reacquire their former teammate, according to Rosenthal.

Here’s more out of the NL Central…

  • Pirates president Frank Coonelly says that the team has financial flexibility to add payroll, tweets Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports. Whether or not that would extend to taking on Burnett’s future commitments, of course, remains to be seen.
  • Cardinals GM John Mozeliak said last night that he expects Michael Wacha to pitch in September, but Rosenthal tweets that St. Louis is still looking for rotation upgrades. The Cardinals are exploring everything from front-line starters to back-of-the-rotation types, he says.
  • Peter Gammons reports that the Red Sox have been scouting Cardinals short-season Class-A outfielder Rowan Wick in case the Redbirds decide to make a run at Jake Peavy (Twitter link).
  • The reason that a deal sending Peavy to the Cardinals has not yet taken place, tweets Buster Olney of ESPN.com, is that Boston wants a prospect of some kind in return. St. Louis, meanwhile, was more interested in doing the deal primarily in exchange for taking on Peavy’s salary. Peavy is earning $14.5MM this year. (A $15MM player option would vest for 2015 if he is able to log at least 137 2/3 more innings this year, though that would appear to be quite a tall order.)

Jeff Todd contributed to this post.


The Details Of A.J. Burnett’s No-Trade Clause

Earlier today, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported the teams to which Cliff Lee can be traded without his consent, and he now reports the trades to which Lee’s teammate, A.J. Burnett, can be dealt without consent (Twitter link).

Burnett has the same 20-team no-trade clause that Lee has, according to Crasnick, and the nine teams to which he can be dealt without prior approval are the Orioles, Red Sox, Yankees, Mets, Pirates, Reds, Royals, Nationals and Cardinals. Unlike Lee, Burnett appears to have factored personal preference into his no-trade clause more than leverage. While Lee blocked potential deals to contending clubs outside of his division, Burnett blocked deals to markets that are further away from his Maryland home. All nine teams to which Burnett can be traded are in the midwest or on the east coast, which isn’t necessarily surprising, given the strong role that geography played in his free agency decision this offseason.

Of note is a second tweet from Crasnick, in which he says the perception that Burnett and the Pirates parted on bad terms is vastly overblown. It appears that Burnett would be open to a reunion with the Bucs, for whom he excelled in 2012-13. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the Pirates are equipped to take on his remaining salary.

Per Cot’s Contracts, Burnett is owed $7.5MM in 2014 salary, with a $2.75MM deferred signing bonus payment due next January and a $3.75MM deferred signing bonus payment due next June. Additionally, Burnett will earn an extra $500K upon reaching 24 and 27 games started, and he will receive an additional $750K if he reaches 30 starts.

His complex contract also contains a $15MM mutual option ($1MM buyout) that becomes a $7.5MM player option if the team declines its half. That player option increases to $8.5MM with 24 starts, $10MM with 27 starts, $11.75MM with 30 starts and $12.75MM with 32 starts. Burnett is tied for the league lead with 21 starts, making him very likely to hit the salary and option escalators in his contract.


Phillies Notes: Burnett, Hamels, Lee

Here’s the latest on the Phillies and the numerous trade candidates on their roster…

  • The Pirates had a scout watching A.J. Burnett‘s start on Friday, Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.  The Bucs are known to be looking for starting pitching and Burnett is certainly a familiar quantity for them.  The veteran righty has a partial no-trade clause, though it isn’t known if he can block a deal to Pittsburgh or if Burnett would welcome a deal to a contender that is still close to his Maryland home.
  • Cole Hamels has received some trade interest from the Red Sox, though CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman wonders if this could be a tactic to restart extension talks with Jon Lester.  Otherwise, Boston’s pursuit of Hamels doesn’t make a lot of sense to Heyman — the Sox could just re-sign Lester, rather than pay a similar price to Hamels through 2018 and have to give up prospects to the Phillies to get him.
  • The Blue Jays and Yankees both scouted Cliff Lee‘s final rehab start, CSNPhilly.com’s Jim Salisbury writes.  Lee returns from the DL to start against the Giants tonight, and scouts from several teams are expected in attendance for Lee’s two scheduled starts prior to the July 31st deadline.


NL Notes: Hamels, Lee, Burnett, Colon, Padres

The Rockies, who have lost four in a row and 11 of their last 15, own the National League’s worst record and the third-worst mark in all of baseball. The franchise faces six key questions, according to the Denver Post’s Patrick Saunders, including whether to trade Troy Tulowitzki and to overhaul the front office to appease the disgruntled fan base. Saunders doesn’t see either happening because owner Dick Monfort is an extremely loyal and stubborn man. Saunders writes Tulowitzki could force a trade if he is willing to be portrayed as the disloyal, bad guy. Elsewhere in the NL:

Edward Creech contributed to this post.


Phillies, Orioles Have Discussed A.J. Burnett Trade

The Phillies and Orioles have had “very preliminary” talks about a trade involving starting pitcher A.J. Burnett, FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi tweets. Morosi further emphasizes that there has not yet been much progress toward a deal.

Burnett, who is making $7.5MM this year with a $7.5MM signing bonus, has a complex player/mutual option that guarantees him at least $7.5MM in 2015 if he wants to pitch (a guarantee that will increase as Burnett makes starts down the stretch). Burnett also has limited no-trade protection. Although Burnett has said he wants to remain with the Phillies, his no-trade clause likely does not include Baltimore, since Burnett’s family resides in Maryland. The Orioles were rumored to be interested in Burnett last offseason.

Burnett, 37, has posted a 4.08 ERA with 7.4 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 this season for the Phillies. Both his ERA and his peripheral numbers have taken a step backward after a strong 2013 season in Pittsburgh.


Quick Hits: Urias, Braves, Burnett, McCutchen

17-year-old Dodgers lefty Julio Urias wowed observers at the Futures Game, leading to chatter about the possibility that he could make his big-league debut as soon as next year, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports writes. “This guy’s got the ability to pitch in the big leagues at 18,” says Dodgers scouting director Logan White. That doesn’t mean the Dodgers will promote Urias that soon — he’s currently at Class A+ Rancho Cucamonga, and he’s only pitched 52 1/3 innings because the Dodgers are concerned about overworking him. But his stuff (he can touch 97 MPH) and composure are impressive beyond his years. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.

  • The Braves badly need lefty bullpen help and particularly like the Red SoxAndrew Miller, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes. Luis Avilan‘s struggles on Sunday are an example of the problems the Braves have had, O’Brien writes — Avilan entered in a 10-4 game in the eighth and faced three batters, giving up a single and two walks. By the time the inning was over, it was 10-7, and a blowout had suddenly become a save situation. Miller, who has struck out 14.4 batters per nine innings for Boston this season, would be a big upgrade. The Braves also like James Russell and Wesley Wright of the Cubs, O’Brien writes.
  • The Braves should release second baseman Dan Uggla, writes Mark Bradley of the Journal-Constitution. The $19MM the Braves owe Uggla through 2015 is a “sunken cost,” and the Braves won’t be able to find a team willing to trade for him. Uggla is hitting an execrable .162/.241/.231 in 145 plate appearances this season. Uggla received only 15 plate appearances in June and only has three so far in July. The Braves also suspended him for a game on Sunday for being late arriving at Wrigley Field Saturday.
  • A.J. Burnett wants to stay with the Phillies, MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki writes. “I’m not a guy who looks for an out or wants to get out because things aren’t going the right way,” says Burnett. “If that happens, then it happens, but I’m not looking to move on. This is my team.” Burnett has a limited no-trade clause, and says he isn’t sure how he would respond if the Phillies asked him to waive it.
  • The rash of pitcher injuries this season might affect the salaries of free-agents-to-be like Max Scherzer and Jon Lester, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes. Recent injuries to Masahiro Tanaka and C.C. Sabathia and the questionable or disappointing contracts of pitchers like Justin Verlander and Johan Santana show how risky long-term deals for star pitchers can be. Scherzer and Lester have performed well this season, but other pitchers’ recent histories might affect the market this winter.
  • Pirates GM Neal Huntington wants Andrew McCutchen to be a Pirate for life, although he’s realistic about how difficult McCutchen will be to keep, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports. “We truly hope Andrew McCutchen retires as a Pirate. That is going to be incredibly challenging to do, but that is our long-term goal,” says Huntington. The Bucs already control McCutchen through 2018 at bargain rates — his yearly salary through his age-31 season never exceeds $14.5MM.

AL East Notes: Price, Burnett, McCarthy, Breslow

With 10 wins in their last 12 games, the Rays have escaped the AL East basement and added another wrinkle to the David Price trade rumors.  As Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times outlines, it still makes a lot of sense for the Rays to deal Price, given that the club needs to replenish its minor league stock and the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel trade only increases Price’s value as the best starter available.  On the other hand, the Rays have already invested a record payroll into this year’s team and they could still make a comeback in a weak AL East, then wait until the offseason to explore trading Price.

Here’s some more from around the AL East…

  • “The Yankees don’t have a strong interest in” reacquiring A.J. Burnett, George A. King III of the New York Post reports.  Burnett is a logical trade candidate if the Phillies decide to sell, though the veteran has a partial no-trade clause in his contract.
  • Brandon McCarthy‘s tendency to allow home runs and grounders might be a problem given Yankee Stadium’s small dimensions and the Yankees‘ poor infield defense, but Andy Martino of the New York Daily News still feels the Bombers made a good move in acquiring the righty from the Diamondbacks.  McCarthy’s peripherals indicate that he’s due to pitch better in the second half, and even if he’s only average, Martino still considers that an upgrade over the struggling Vidal Nuno.
  • Before dealing for Rich Hill, the Angels showed some interest in acquiring Red Sox reliever Craig Breslow but felt that Breslow’s stuff had declined since last year, ESPN Boston’s Gordon Edes reports.  Breslow posted a 1.81 ERA (though a 4.37 xFIP) over 59 2/3 relief innings for the Sox in 2013 but has struggled this season, managing only a 5.04 ERA and almost as many walks (20) as strikeouts (21) over 30 1/3 innings.  The southpaw is also averaging just 87.8 mph on his fastball, down significantly from his 89.9 mph average last year.
  • Also from Edes’ piece, he lists several Red Sox veterans who could be traded this summer now that Boston is on the brink of falling out of contention.
  • While it may not seem likely Jon Lester and the Red Sox will work out a new contract before Lester hits free agency, Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald reminds us that Cole Hamels and the Phillies were in a similar situation two years ago and agreed on a midseason extension.  Lester has been unwilling to negotiate during the year for fear of distractions, though it was recently reported that he would be open to hearing an offer if it led to a quick signing process.  (One would think he’d be very quick to agree if the Sox presented Lester with the six-year/$144MM deal the Phillies gave Hamels, though I strongly doubt Boston would offer that much.)
  • The Blue Jays have done a poor job of drafting and developing position players over the last decade-plus, Mike Rutsey of the Toronto Sun writes, a problem that has been underscored by the lack of depth available to fill in for several injured Jays regulars.

Cafardo On Marlins, Burnett, Price, Cuddyer

In today’s column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe looks at the impact that hitting coach Kevin Seitzer has had on the Blue Jays thus far in 2014.  Toronto used to be a swing-for-the-fences team, but even guys like Jose Bautista are hitting to all fields.  With a new, more patient approach at the plate, Toronto is leading the league in runs, homers, and extra base hits.  Here’s more from today’s column..

  • A Marlins official told Cafardo there’s no reason they won’t add a player through a trade. The National League East seems wide open, and they believe that they can find their way to the playoffs, even without the services of Jose Fernandez.  Miami has lots of pieces to offer, so they shouldn’t have trouble finding a match over the next couple of months.
  • Phillies veteran A.J. Burnett is some contending teams are looking at, but as one AL scout tells Cafardo, “if he doesn’t pitch better he’ll be another guy the Phillies are stuck with. When he’s the A.J. we saw earlier in the year or last year, he’s a guy you want out there in a tough situation. Right now, you wouldn’t touch him.” In his last six starts he has a 7.25 ERA, after posting a 2.06 ERA in his first seven.
  • The Rays will have to get at least three top players for left-hander David Price and if they don’t get that offer this summer, they’ll probably pull back and wait until the offseason.  Price, of course, still has great stuff, but his velocity is down, which is always a red flag.  There’s also no guarantee that he’ll re-sign with the team that trades for him, which could keep the Rays from getting the haul they want.
  • Rockies veteran Michael Cuddyer didn’t appear to be one of the possibly available outfielders at the deadline a month ago, but he could be if Colorado’s slide continues.  The 35-year-old is a great clubhouse presence and would draw trade interest along with Drew Stubbs.  Cafardo mentions the Red Sox as a club that could have interest in Stubbs as they seek an outfielder with power.
  • The Yankees, Rangers, Angels, Mariners, and Tigers (if they lose Max Scherzer) are among the teams who will line up if Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester hits the open market. On their end, Boston must decide whether to go beyond a fifth year because the other teams surely will.
  • The A’s nearly traded right-hander Jim Johnson to the Marlins last week, so, they’re clearly willing to move him.  Cafardo mentions the Orioles, Yankees, and Tigers as clubs that could have interest, but his rocky start and onerous contract make him a gamble.

Another Bite At The Apple: Opt-Out Clauses In MLB

An opt-out clause is the ultimate safety net for an MLB player.  Typically employed with deals of least five guaranteed years, an opt-out clause is inserted in the middle of the term and allows the player to abandon the rest of his contract and become a free agent.  

Alex Rodriguez started the opt-out trend with his monster free agent deal with the Rangers in December 2000, and in total, ten players have received opt-out clauses.  Six of those clauses have come due, and only one of those players, Vernon Wells, didn't secure additional money at the time.  C.C. Sabathia leveraged his ability to opt out to add one year and $30MM to an already record-setting deal.  The others — A-Rod, J.D. Drew, A.J. Burnett, and Rafael Soriano — got to take another lucrative bite at the apple of free agency.  

A Deal-Making Idea

On the night before the 2005 Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, agent Darek Braunecker had a client in A.J. Burnett who he felt was on an island in terms of being the best pitcher available.  It was at that point Braunecker conceived of the idea of asking for an opt-out clause in Burnett's deal.  "I wanted to create something that might add additional value to the deal as opposed to just the monetary component of it," explained Braunecker in a January conversation.  

Burnett's five-year, $55MM deal with the Blue Jays came together quickly once the team agreed to include an opt-out clause after the third year.  "Quite honestly, it was a deal-maker for us," said Braunecker.  "I presented the idea to [Blue Jays GM] J.P. [Ricciardi] and told him that we had another club that had already agreed to that provision, and that if he was willing to do it that he would have a deal. So, really, no pushback to speak of. He obviously had to get approval from [club president] Paul Godfrey, and Paul gave his blessing on it almost immediately and that's essentially what concluded those negotiations."  Braunecker added, "It really wasn't much of a challenge, to be honest with you." 

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Three years later, agent Greg Genske had the enjoyment of negotiating on behalf of the offseason's best available starting pitcher, C.C. Sabathia, and eventually landed a record-setting seven-year, $161MM deal with an opt-out clause after the third year.  There seems to be some disagreement about who proposed the clause.  Back in 2008, Matt Gagne of the New York Daily News quoted Yankees GM Brian Cashman saying, "I offered it. They never asked for it.  They never said they were afraid of New York, I never heard that….Just in case it was an issue, I went to their house and I said, 'I think you're going to love it here. But let me just throw this out there.'"  Genske disputed Cashman's account, telling me in January this year, "That's not true at all. That was a negotiated item that was difficult to get the Yankees to agree to. It was the last item agreed to."

The sheer rarity of opt-out clauses suggests they're not something teams are readily offering up.  Only ten opt-out clauses have been given out in total, though two of them came in January this year for Excel Sports Management clients Clayton Kershaw and Masahiro Tanaka.  According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, 52 MLB contracts have been worth $100MM or more.  Only seven of those included opt-out clauses.  Asked if he's surprised we've seen so many top of the market deals without opt-out clauses, Genske replied, "I don't think I'm surprised. It certainly is a big deal for a club. If a club's going to commit themselves to those kinds of dollars, then they don't get the benefit of the upside fully if the player has the right to opt out. I certainly understand clubs' resistance to do it."  

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Free Agent Notes: Zito, Perez, Gaudin, Colvin, Burnett

In case you missed it from Friday, ESPN.com's Jayson Stark provided an interesting look at the views of 23 MLB executives on the still-concluding off-season. Intervening events already have impacted some of the conclusions (and will continue to do so), but the piece is chock full of interesting observations nonetheless. Among them: whether or not the money was all wisely spent, the voters say that the Yankees are the most improved team in the American League. A comparatively quiet off-season from the National League left the Nationals as the most improved club on that side (largely on the back of the Doug Fister trade), with the Padres a somewhat surprising choice for the second slot. As for least improved, the Orioles and Blue Jays top the list on the AL side, though Baltimore has already made an off-season altering move and Toronto still could. (The Tigers came in third.) The Reds and Pirates pulled up the rear among National League teams. After the Fister deal (an "all-time heist," as Stark summed up the collective viewpoint), voters liked the Rays' trade for Ryan Hanigan and the Athletics' acquisition of Jim Johnson.

Here are notes on some other free agent situations around the game …

  • Last we checked in with lefty Barry Zito, it was to learn that his option was being declined by the Giants. The reason, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, is that Zito has apparently not done anything to pursue a contract. Though he is not necessarily hanging up his spikes for good, says Heyman, the 36-year-old will seemingly not pitch in 2014.
  • Southpaw Oliver Perez is considering offers from four clubs, tweets Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. A decision is expected in short order.
  • Swingman Chad Gaudin tweeted today that he is in line for surgery and expects to be at 100% in three months. Gaudin, was recently released by the Phillies when he failed his physical, did not disclose details of his malady.
  • Outfielder Tyler Colvin could still end up with the Orioles, tweets Troy Renck of the Denver Post. Baltimore somewhat infamously blew up its contract with the 28-year-old after he failed his physical.
  • A.J. Burnett was mistaken when he said that the Orioles did not express much interest in him, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter). In fact, says Rosenthal, Baltimore made multiple offers but Burnett wanted to pitch in the National League.