A.J. Burnett Rumors

Reactions To A.J. Burnett Signing

Today's signing of free agent starter A.J. Burnett by the Phillies (one year, $16MM, plus a mutual option) brings to an end a brief-but-interesting period of a fascinating free agent signing class. Long expected either to re-sign with the Pirates or instead retire, the 37-year-old threw a wrench into an already-straggling pitching market when it was revealed that he would not only return for another year, but would be open to alternative destinations. Having re-established himself as a top-end arm, but being available on a short-term deal, Burnett further downgraded the market outlook for draft-compensation-bound starters Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana. But by signing with the Phils, who had not figured to be in play for Jimenez or Santana, Burnett leaves the market much as he found it — albeit further slowed, perhaps. (Indeed, with Matt Garza going to another relatively unexpected landing spot with the Brewers, those hurlers may now be in a better position, timing notwithstanding.) Ultimately, the Phillies proved to be every bit the wild card I suggested they might be at the outset of the off-season, but in some respects functioned to restore the rest of the market to expectations.

  • Of course, that is not to say that Burnett's signing is of little moment. To the contrary, it has important implications — in particular, for both of MLB's Pennsylvania-based franchises. As Ben Lindbegh of Baseball Prospectus writes, the Pirates may have learned a difficult lesson by failing to made Burnett a qualifying offer. Rejecting the hypotheses that the club did not want to sign him or was genuinely unable to do so financially, Lindbergh opines that the Pittsburgh likely mistakenly felt it would be readily able to get him back for less than the $14.1MM QO.
  • Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington weighed in again on the qualifying offer decision, as Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports (Twitter links). Huntington acknowledged that such an offer arguably made quite a bit of sense from a "value standpoint." But, he explained, "the reality is in 10-15 markets a qualifying offer, if accepted, becomes a large chunk of payroll." As Huntington has stated previously, the team did not feel that it could take a $14.1MM payroll hit for Burnett.
  • According to Huntington (links to Twitter, via Sawchik), Burnett "informed us it was family-based. The player made a decision to be closer to home." Declining to disclose whether the club made a competitive offer — he said that question was better posed to Burnett and his agent — Huntington said that "A.J. would have had the biggest single impact of any single move we made this off-season."
  • From the Phillies' perspective, the deal runs the club's payroll up to approximately $189MM, a new club record, says Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer (via Twitter). Though the final tally is somewhat unclear, that means that Philadelphia could well approach or exceed MLB's $189MM luxury cap. As WEEI.com's Alex Speier has explained, the impact of going over that mark comes not just in the tax owed on overages, but in sacrificing the ability to participate in revenue-sharing refunds. Even if the Phils remain under the $189MM level on Opening Day, moreover, the cap could play a role in how the club weighs mid-season moves.
  • Burnett's substantial salary would hinder his trade value if the Phillies end up looking to move him, tweets ESPN.com's Buster Olney. The newly-reported inclusion of a limited no-trade clause, likewise, represents a barrier to such a possibility and could substantially limit Burnett's market. 
  • Several commentators have weighed in positively on the deal on the Phillies' end. CSNPhilly.com's Corey Seidman, for instance, argues that the signing makes better sense of the club's earlier moves to sign veterans like Carlos Ruiz, Marlon Byrd, and Roberto Hernandez in a bid to make a playoff push. As Seidman notes, most of those deals have the added benefit of not adding long-term money to the books. MLB.com's Richard Justice offers that Burnett joins a cast of veterans who still have plenty of talent, and could help push the team into contention.
  • On the flip side, the deal could be seen as throwing good money after bad given the club's aging roster. In the view of ESPN.com's Keith Law (Insider link), Burnett looks to represent solid value at a one-year commitment of $16MM. But, he says, Philadelphia was the wrong team to take on that big salary. Even assuming that Cole Hamels is mostly healthy — he is reportedly dealing with shoulder and biceps discomfort and will likely not quite be ready for Opening Day — Law argues that the club still looks like a .500 outfit. And the Phillies cannot take full advantage of Burnett's ability to induce grounders, says Law, because they field a below-average defensive infield and do not employ an analytics-based infield alignment strategy like that utilized by the Pirates.

Orioles Unlikely To Sign Burnett; Phillies Still In Running

MONDAY, 10:17pm: Burnett is in discussions with multiple teams, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.

9:41pm: The Phillies are "very much still in the running" to land Burnett, reports MLB.com's Todd Zolecki. Though there is no indication that the sides are nearing a deal, says Zolecki, the likelihood has increased since Friday.

FRIDAY: The market for A.J. Burnett could be taking further shape, as Friday reports have indicated that a pair of previously listed suitors aren't likely landing spots. Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com writes that the Phillies aren't likely to add Burnett at this point in the offseason, and Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com tweets that things "don't look good" for the Orioles either.

Salisbury spoke with Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. and was told the following:

"I don’t suspect we’ll be doing anything. I think we’ve got what we’ve got. I suspect we’ll go into the season with what we’ve got – or at least spring training with what we’ve got. We’re always looking, always trolling. I know there are guys out there, but I don’t suspect us having anything major coming through."

In his tweet, Kubatko does note that while the Burnett-to-Baltimore scenario isn't completely dead, the sense is that his prerference is to pitch in the National League rather than return to the American League. Kubatko adds that the Orioles are still in the mix on Bronson Arroyo, Ubaldo Jimenez and Suk-Min Yoon, however.

Recent reports stated that the D-Backs would have interest in Burnett, but they don't feel he'd want to pitch for a West Coast club. It sounds then, like Burnett's preference is to pitch for a Senior Circuit club on or near the East coast (he is a Maryland resident), which would bode well for the Pirates, especially if the Phillies are truly out of the mix. The Washington Post's Adam Kilgore speculated earlier in the week that the Nationals could make a surprise push for Burnett, and I'd agree that the pairing would make sense, though there's been nothing concrete to connect the two sides to this point.


Orioles Notes: Arroyo, Burnett, Payroll

Now that Bronson Arroyo has agreed to terms with the Diamondbacks, the Orioles have one fewer option available in their search for a starting pitcher, Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun writes. It was reported last night that the Orioles and Diamondbacks were the top contenders for Arroyo. Encina notes that the fact that the Orioles are in the American League (and perhaps, more specifically, the tough AL East) hurt them in their pursuit of Arroyo, and appears to be hurting them in their pursuit of A.J. Burnett as well. If the Orioles can't get Burnett, their next logical choices would be Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana (although draft-pick forfeiture is an issue in both cases), or perhaps Suk-Min Yoon. Encina also notes that Fernando Rodney's pact with the Mariners makes it increasingly likely that the Orioles will fill their closer position internally. Here's more on the Orioles.

  • The Orioles' highest priority remains a top-of-the-rotation starter, writes MASNsports.com's Roch Kubatko. Kubatko suggests that the Orioles should make sure they outbid any of Burnett's NL suitors, then let the press know they did so if Burnett chooses to go to stay in the NL anyway. They should also be willing to give up their draft pick for Jimenez, Santana or Kendrys Morales. Kubatko also suggests that Tim Hudson, who signed early in the offseason, would have been a good addition for the Orioles.
  • Many Orioles fans are upset about the team's relatively thrifty offseason thus far, but the correlation between spending and winning isn't that strong, MASNsports' Steve Melewski writes. Only three of the ten highest-payroll teams made the playoffs last year (the Dodgers, Red Sox and Tigers), while three of the bottom five teams did (the Pirates, Athletics and Rays). Spending and trying to win aren't the same thing, Melewski says.


Cafardo’s Latest: Arroyo, Cruz, Burnett, Middlebrooks

Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe shares a few hot stove items in his latest Sunday column…

  • Bronson Arroyo has been looking for a three-year deal or at least a vesting option for a third year, which could be holding up his market.  If Arroyo was willing to settle for a flat two-year contract, Cafardo opines, he could find a deal, possibly with the Diamondbacks; Cafardo reported earlier this week that Arizona was "beginning to kick the tires" on the veteran right-hander.  Arroyo recently said that he has yet to receive a concrete offer from any team, despite a lot of interest from around the league.
  • The Dodgers are another team who "are very interested" in Arroyo but don't want to give him a guaranteed third year.
  • Nelson Cruz's market is beginning to heat up, and “there could be up to four or five teams who could take the plunge in the end," a Major League source tells Cafardo.  This interest could manifest itself into a multiyear deal for Cruz, though Cafardo notes that the slugger could still have to settle for a one-year contract.  We've recently seen the Mariners, Orioles, Rangers and Twins linked to Cruz in rumors, though Texas and Minnesota only seem interested at a greatly reduced price.
  • Cafardo thinks the A.J. Burnett sweepstakes is down to the Pirates, Phillies and Orioles, though he wouldn't be surprised if the Yankees were also exploring a reunion with the veteran right-hander.  The Rays and Blue Jays have also been connected to Burnett, though it seems more likely that Burnett will choose a team located closer to his home in Maryland.
  • The Marlins have "asked a lot" about Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks but there doesn't seem to be a trade fit.  Miami is one of several teams who have asked Boston about Middlebrooks' availability, but the Sox don't want to give up on Middlebrooks' power potential.  Even if the Red Sox re-signed Stephen Drew to play shortstop and Xander Bogaerts took over at third, Middlebrooks would still receive playing time alternating between third and first base.
  • While Jon Lester recently said he would take a hometown discount to remain with the Red Sox, Cafardo points out that it might not be a huge discount, as Lester also noted that "you never want to be the guy that takes the market backward."
  • The Red Sox will experiment with Ryan Lavarnway as a first baseman during Spring Training, GM Ben Cherington confirmed.  Since Boston is so deep at catcher at both the Triple-A and Major League levels, Lavarnway's only chance at continued playing time may be as a Triple-A first baseman.
  • "There’s a feeling that a team like the Yankees may pluck Fernando Rodney, or someone of his ilk, to ensure they have another closer in case David Robertson breaks down or isn’t up to the task," Cafardo writes.  Rodney was reportedly drawing interest from four teams, though the Yankees hadn't spoken with him since November and may not have enough remaining payroll space to add to the bullpen.

AL East Notes: Burnett, Jays, O’s, Bonifacio, Yankees

It might not be likely that the Blue Jays will sign A.J. Burnett, but in some respects, he would be a very good fit for them, writes Ben Nicholson-Smith of SportsNet.ca. Burnett won't require the team that signs him to forfeit a draft pick and likely wouldn't want a long-term deal, and he arguably performed better in 2013 than all the other remaining free-agent pitchers, like Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Bronson Arroyo. A return to Toronto might be a longshot for Burnett, though — he would likely prefer to be closer to his home in Maryland, and had previously said he was deciding between pitching for the Pirates and retiring. Here are more notes from the AL East.

  • Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette brushed aside a report that his team was "all-in" on Burnett, saying that he was "not sure where that report came from," MASNsports.com's Roch Kubatko reports. The Orioles do, however, remain very interested in signing a veteran starting pitcher. "Some of these young pitchers who we really like should be able to help us later on in the season, but if we could sign a veteran starter, I think that would help fill out our ballclub," he said.
  • Emilio Bonifacio, who the Royals designated for assignment in a surprise move today, could make an interesting candidate for the Yankees' open bench infielder job, Mike Axisa of River Ave. Blues writes. If they want to acquire him, though, they'll likely need to do so via trade, since the Dodgers also need infield help and could make a trade for him themselves.

NL West Notes: Burnett, Arroyo, Giants, Belt, Guerrero

Now that A.J. Burnett has decided to pitch in 2014, the Diamondbacks would be interested in adding him to their rotation, tweets Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic. However, the D-Backs don't feel that Burnett is interested in pitching for a team on the West coast, according to Piecoro, so there may not be mutual interest. More on the D-Backs and the rest of the NL West below…

  • The Diamondbacks are beginning to kick the tires on Bronson Arroyo, according to the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo (on Twitter). Arroyo told ESPN's Jayson Stark earlier this week that he's yet to receive a formal offer from a club.
  • Giants manager Bruce Bochy told Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle that his team is done pursuing free agent starting pitchers (Twitter link). The Giants seem likely to head into the season with Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Tim Hudson and one of Ryan Vogelsong or Yusmeiro Petit in the rotation.
  • Schulman also spoke with Brandon Belt, who said he has no ill feelings toward the Giants for submitting a $1.55MM arbitration figure ($2.05MM lower than his own figure) and won't have any hard feelings if they go to a hearing and he listens to the team make a case against him (Sulia link). "I don't think they think little of me," said Belt. "I think that's what teams do. That's the business side of baseball. I think what both sides are trying to do is create a midpoint, maybe. … I know what I wasn't good at, so if I go in there it's not going to hurt my feelings any. If they have to tear me down a little bit, I'll be OK."
  • New Dodgers second baseman Alexander Guerrero tells Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com that shortstop and second base are "completely different" and admits to struggling to adapt to a new culture. However, he called Los Angeles "beautiful" and voiced confidence that he'll be ready to handle second base come Opening Day. Saxon reports that the Dodgers are still looking to add one more infielder to their bench, likely to serve as insurance.
  • Earlier in the week, Troy Renck of the Denver Post wrote that the Rockies have "mild" interest in Ervin Santana but aren't pursuing him at his current price and are also reluctant to surrender the 35th pick in this year's draft.

East Notes: Blue Jays, Mets, Phillies, Orioles

Here are some notes from around the game's eastern divisions: 

  • Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos hopes his club can benefit from the qualifying offer system given its array of draft picks, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca reports. With two protected first rounders, the Jays would stand to lose only a second-round choice by signing a free agent who comes burdened with draft pick compensation. "It's significant," said Anthopoulos. "I think if we had to give up a first round pick, it would changes thngs in a significant manner. I think that's where the draft pick compensation component is impacting some of these clubs." Though he said that "there's still value with the second round pick … and you still build that into an offer," Anthopoulos explained that "it's not close to the value of round one."
  • Mets GM Sandy Alderson says he is "still looking for more players," reports ESPNNewYork.com's Adam Rubin, but emphasized that he likes the club as currently constituted. "I think we've spent the fifth-most of any team in Major League Baseball on free agents this offseason," said Alderson. "And we might do something else before Spring Training starts."
  • Meanwhile, two New York starting pitching options — the recently signed John Lannan and Daisuke Matsuzaka — have opt-out provisions in their contracts, Rubin reports. Lannan has a June 14 date in his deal, while Matsuzaka has the standard Type XX(B) contract (for minor league free agents with six-plus years of service), which includes a June 1 opt-out. 
  • The Phillies should act on their reported interest in free agent starter A.J. Burnett, opines Todd Zolecki of MLB.com. With Roberto Hernandez a puzzling addition and international signee Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez still a "huge wild card," in Zolecki's view, the Phils should go hard for Burnett unless the club really does not believe it is a likely contender.
  • We heard earlier today that the Orioles and Rays are also possible contender's for Burnett's services.
  • The Orioles are interested in bringing back Jason Hammel, but probably are not his likely landing spot since they would not guarantee him a starting role, reports Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun. Baltimore executive VP Dan Duquette also acknowledged that "it would be nice" if the club could announce a significant addition at the team's fan event on Saturday, but of course emphasized that the event would not sway the decisionmaking.
  • Baltimore announced a pair of international signings: 17-year-old Mexican Carlos Diaz and 16-year-old Dominican Jomar Reyes. As MLB.com's Brittany Ghiroli reports (Twitter links), both teenagers are expected to start out in the Gulf Coast League. Duquette said that multiple other clubs were involved, and labeled Diaz and Reyes as "potential everyday major league players that can hit in the middle of the lineup." The indicated said that the two received "substantial" bonuses, Connolly reports on Twitter.

Orioles “All In” On Burnett, Rays Also Interested

The Orioles are "all in" on free agent starter A.J. Burnett, reports Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com (via Twitter). Also in the mix are the Rays, according to Gammons.

Burnett's reported decision to enter the open market promises to have a major impact on how the remaining free agent starting pitching situation plays out. In certain respects, Burnett is the most attractive remaining starter. (In particular, he was outstanding last year and figures to be had on a short-term deal.) As the newly reported interest of the Rays demonstrates, he could appeal to a variety of clubs, including those that had not been rumored to be players on the rest of the market.

But, as Gammons says, Burnett has only just begun the process of chosing a club. With pitchers and catchers reporting within a matter of weeks, and the starting pitching market still de-thawing from its Tanaka freeze, Burnett could potentially create further hold-up on the rest of the market. Teams like the Orioles, for instance, might conceivably hold off on other top options like Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana until Burnett has made his decision. And, as I noted previously, if Burnett lands with a club that had intended to add a starter, there could be less demand left for the other best open-market arms.


Blue Jays Notes: Jimenez, Santana, Anthopoulos

The Blue Jays haven't made any offers to free agent starters but that could change in the near future, FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reports.  The Jays have considered such options as Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, A.J. Burnett and Bronson Arroyo, and have also looked at adding starting pitching (such as the Rays' David Price and the Cubs' Jeff Samardzija) in trades.  While Jimenez might not be Toronto's top choice, the team has nevertheless looked into his medical records and other "extensive background work" on the right-hander.

Here's some more from general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who spoke to reporters at the Jays' state of the franchise event tonight.  All of Anthopoulos' comments are from the Twitter feeds of Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith and Shi Davidi…

  • Anthopoulos noted that any of four free agent starters (Santana, Jimenez, Burnett, Arroyo) could "all be a significant improvement" to the Jays' rotation.
  • The idea of pursuing a free agent is becoming more appealing to the club, Anthopoulos said, since prices are beginning to drop.
  • In terms of internal pitching prospects, Anthopoulos praised Marcus Stroman, comparing the 22-year-old righty to Athletics right-hander Sonny Gray.  While ideally Stroman would spend 2014 in the minors, Anthopoulos believes Stroman is ready for the majors now.  Stroman made solid showing in recent top 100 prospects lists from Baseball Prospectus (ranked 27th), MLB.com (r55th) and ESPN's Keith Law (58th), and Baseball America considers Stroman to be the second-best prospect in Toronto's system, behind only Aaron Sanchez.
  • Pitching seems to be Toronto's focus, as Anthopoulos said the club isn't actively pursuing position players.  We heard yesterday that the Jays were "in the mix" for Stephen Drew to fill their hole at second base.
  • Anthopoulos said the team has had dialogue with most of the top free agents and continues to talk with both free agents and with other teams about trades, though "I don't know that I'd say were close on anything."

A.J. Burnett Rumors: Wednesday

The free agent pitching market was given a jolt by yesterday's news that A.J. Burnett will return in 2014 and that he's open to pitching for a team other than the Pirates.  Here's the latest batch of news and opinions about the veteran right-hander…

  • With the Phillies having checked in on Burnett earlier this offseason, Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News notes that the Phillies could be aided by the fact that assistant GM Scott Proefrock is friends with Burnett and they live in the same neighborhood.  Burnett and Cliff Lee share an agent in Darek Braunecker.
  • Signing Burnett would put the Phillies over their stated payroll limit for 2014, though Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com wonders if the team would spend extra to help attract the fans back to Citizens Bank Park.  Trade protection could also be a factor; Burnett would definitely want some type of no-trade protection in his next contract since he wants to be near his Maryland home, and the Phillies only give out partial no-trade clauses. 
  • In order to fit Burnett into the Pirates' budget, MLB.com's Tom Singer proposes that the Bucs should offer Burnett a one-year, $17MM contract for 2014.  Of that sum, $10MM would be deferred, which Singer feels is a win-win for both sides — the Pirates can keep their payroll in check, while Burnett gets to remain in a comfortable situation while still accepting a market-value contract.  
  • "Burnett might suddenly be the best free-agent starter left," writes Jeff Sullivan for Fangraphs.  Burnett has had a better WAR over the last two seasons than Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana and Bronson Arroyo, and teams would be more amenable to signing Burnett to a short-term deal than taking a chance on a longer-term commitment to Jimenez or Santana.