A.J. Burnett Rumors

Central Notes: Burnett, Jimenez, Indians, Tigers

A.J. Burnett's decision about whether or not to retire is a crucial one for the Pirates, Fangraphs' Jeff Sullivan writes. The Pirates are a "bubble team," and re-signing Burnett would give them the chance to separate themselves from potential Wild Card competitors like the Diamondbacks, Giants, Braves and Nationals, while also giving them a better chance to win the NL Central. If Burnett returning is worth even two wins to the Pirates, he could be crucial. Unfortunately for the Bucs, they have little control over Burnett's decision. Here are more notes from the Central divisions.

  • If Ubaldo Jimenez can't get the three- or four-year contract he seeks elsewhere, it's possible he could return to the Indians for one year and $14MM or less, Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer writes. Such a scenario might sound unlikely, but Jimenez will cause the team that signs him to lose a draft pick, and Matt Garza, who didn't require the loss of a draft pick, will reportedly only get four years at an average of $13MM per season from the Brewers. (That deal does not yet seem to be complete, however.)
  • Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski says his team is unlikely to make any more big moves this offseason, MLB.com's Jason Beck tweets. That means the Tigers don't appear likely to sign Nelson Cruz, although Dombrowski did not mention Cruz by name.

Pirates Preparing To Enter Spring Without Burnett

Pirates president Frank Coonelly says that the club does not expect to have A.J. Burnett for the coming season, reports ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick. This confirms the recent statements of pitching coach Ray Searage indicating that Burnett seemed likely to retire.

"We'd love to have A.J. back," said Coonelly, "but right now we've turned the page and we're heading to Bradenton thinking he's not going to be with us. But if he surprises us and calls up tomorrow and says he wants to pitch again, we'd love to have him." Coonelly confirmed that, if Burnett does indeed decide to pitch (and, presumably, agrees to do so at the Bucs' price), the team would still "have the flexibility to bring him back."

Quick Hits: Orioles, Cubs, Burnett

The Orioles have behaved with a "lack of urgency" this offseason, writes Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan. The team has a number of key players set for free agency after the 2015 season, including slugger Chris Davis and catcher Matt Wieters. After that, the shape of the organization figures to change dramatically. That means they ought to go for it now, Passan argues, but they haven't so far. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.

  • The Cubs are a "wealthy team pinching baseball pennies," Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times writes. The team appears to have the means to spend, Wittenmyer writes, but "there exists a sizable gap between available resources and baseball spending that could help assure the success of the rebuild."
  • The Cubs are evaluating their options with the fourth pick in this year's draft, Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune reports. "We feel we know who the top five are today," says senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod. "We’ll spend a lot of time with them. As things change, we’ll just scout the guy we think has the most impact for us." Gonzalez notes that the Cubs already have a connection to Vanderbilt pitcher Tyler Beede, who is one of the top-ranked prospects in the draft — Cubs minor league pitching coordinator Derek Johnson was Vanderbilt's pitching coach in 2012, when Beede was a freshman.
  • The Pirates are still waiting on A.J. Burnett, whose decision about whether or not to retire will have a dramatic impact on their offseason, Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes. Bucs pitching coach Ray Searage says he has heard that Burnett is continuing to work out in preparation to pitch. If Burnett does not return, the Pirates will likely go with a rotation of Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, Wandy Rodriguez and Edinson Volquez, although Rodriguez is returning from injury. Brink notes in an aside that the Pirates could make a trade from their stockpile of relievers.

Pirates Notes: First Base, Burnett, Volquez

The Pirates need to address their vacancy at first base, Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com writes. The Bucs find themselves without a first baseman (or, at least, without a lefty to platoon with Gaby Sanchez) in part because there wasn't much on the market — Castrovince suggests that, given that they weren't likely to sign Mike Napoli, their next-best option was likely Corey Hart, who has had serious knee issues. The Pirates have also explored the trade market, but to no avail so far. Andrew Lambo might be an in-house option, but he comes with question marks. The Athletics' recent success shows one way to win as a small-payroll team is to avoid big holes, and right now, the Pirates may have one. Here are more notes on the Bucs.

  • Days like today, when Clayton Kershaw signs for $215MM, put the plight of a small-market team in perspective, as Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review noted (via Twitter). In 1996, Kevin McClatchy bought the Pirates — the entire franchise — for $95MM, or about $150MM in 2014 dollars.
  • Biertempfel also relays bits from Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage's interview earlier today on MLB Network Radio with Casey Stern and Jim Bowden. Searage reiterates that he thinks A.J. Burnett is likely to retire. Searage also says the Pirates are "excited" to have gotten Edinson Volquez, and says he plans to "go back to basics" with Volquez's delivery (Twitter links).

Pirates’ Pitching Coach Expects Burnett To Retire

There's still no word from A.J. Burnett on whether he will pitch in 2014 or retire, but Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage is moving forward under the expectation that Burnett will call it a career, he said in an appearance on 93-7 The Fan Morning Show in Pittsburgh this morning:

"I'm on the percentage point where he's not going to come back. I've got to prepare my guys with no A.J. I've got to prepare the pitching with no A.J. So that's the route I'm going. If he does come back — hey, all right! But right now, I'm leaning that way, where he's going to retire."

Burnett's decision on whether or not to retire has taken months longer than initially anticipated, but there's yet to be any indication that he would give consideration to pitching for another team. The 37-year-old has stated on multiple occasions that he will only pitch for the Pirates if he decides to play again in 2014, though his hometown Orioles have expressed interest should he decide to change that thinking. The Pirates already have six starters with Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke, Wandy Rodriguez and Edinson Volquez on board, although Burnett could certainly be worked into the mix.

Searage went on to say that Locke experienced arm fatigue in 2013, leading to his precipitous decline late in the season, and he's hoping Locke can "wipe the slate clean" heading into 2014. He also wants to try not to overload Volquez with tips on how to harness his potential and says he finds it best to "kill them with kindness" when working with such reclamation projects. Searage has had plenty of success in that department, as the Pirates have enjoyed tremendous rebound performances from Burnett, Liriano and Mark Melancon upon arrival in Pittsburgh.

Orioles Notes: Blair, Starters, Tanaka, Wright

Paul Blair, one of baseball's all-time greatest defensive players, passed away today at age 69.  Blair spent 13 of his 17 Major League seasons with the Orioles, with his superb center field defense playing a key role in Baltimore's success in the late 60's and early 70's.  Blair won eight Gold Gloves over his career and accumulated 18.6 defensive WAR over his career (according to Baseball Reference), tied for 58th-best all-time.  While he was best known for his glove, Blair also enjoyed a few impressive years at the plate, including hitting .285/.327/.477 with 26 homers for the O's in 1969.  Blair won four World Series rings in his career — with the Orioles in 1966 and 1970, and with the Yankees in 1977-78.  We at MLBTR express our condolences to Blair's family and loved ones.

Here's the latest from Camden Yards…

  • The Orioles will focus on free agent starters like A.J. Burnett or Bronson Arroyo rather than Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana, according to Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun.  Pitchers like Burnett or Arroyo have "a track record of stability [and] can be signed to shorter-term deals" than Jimenez, Santana and Garza, Encina writes.  The Orioles "aren't high" on Garza in general.
  • Also from Encina, the O's may put their closer search on hold for now and focus on other needs.  For the time being, Tommy Hunter projects as Baltimore's closer.
  • Minor league right-hander Mike Wright drew attention at the July deadline and MASNsports.com's Roch Kubatko notes that the O's aren't keen to trade Wright.  A rival scout isn't high on Wright's potential, telling Kubatko that Wright is "a back-of-the-rotation starter in the majors, at best."  Wright, who turns 24 in January, was taken in the third round of the 2011 draft and he posted a 3.26 ERA, 3.54 K/BB rate and 8.3 K/9 in 150 1/3 IP for Double-A Bowie in 2013.
  • The Orioles are hesitant to trade young starters like Wright or Eduardo Rodriguez, but Kubatko notes that they might have to make such a move to acquire a rotation upgrade if they won't pursue Tanaka and have doubts about the free agent market.  Kubatko says that Jeff Samardzija is still "a potential trade target" for Baltimore, though the Cubs would surely ask for young pitching in return.
  • Kubatko and Encina both reiterate Dan Duquette's claim that the Orioles won't be part of the market for Masahiro Tanaka, since Tanaka will be out of the team's price range.

Top Remaining 2014 Free Agents

Now that the Winter Meetings are over, here are the top ten remaining free agents from Tim Dierkes' Top 50 list, with updates on each.

3. Shin-Soo Choo. The acquisitions of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran by the Yankees, Curtis Granderson by the Mets and Corey Hart and Logan Morrison by the Mariners have helped define the market for Choo. One report recently indicated he Rangers had a seven-year offer on the table. Not everyone agreed, but in any case, the Rangers remain interested. The Astros, Diamondbacks and Reds do not appear to be in the mix. The Tigers could be another possibility, although ESPN's Jerry Crasnick recently wrote that their acquisition of Rajai Davis ruled them out.

5. Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka's status will likely become clearer once an agreement on the posting system is ratified tomorrow. If Rakuten decides to post Tanaka, the Diamondbacks could be serious suitors, as could the Cubs. Tanaka is also the Yankees' "top choice." The Dodgers might also be a possibility, but their interest doesn't appear to be as strong as expected.

6. Ervin Santana. The Tigers are reportedly interested in Santana, and the Diamondbacks have met with his agent. The Mets probably dropped out of the race when they agreed to terms with Bartolo Colon. The Yankees do not appear to be interested.

7. Matt Garza. Unlike Santana, Garza didn't receive a qualifying offer, which may improve his market, since teams won't have to worry about losing a draft pick. The Angels and Twins have been connected to Garza, although Angels GM Jerry Dipoto says his team doesn't have an offer out for Garza, and the Twins don't want to give Garza a four- or five-year deal. The Diamondbacks have repeatedly been connected to Garza, and Arizona could be a good landing spot, particularly if the D'Backs don't come up with Tanaka or Santana.

9. A.J. Burnett. The Pirates still believe Burnett is deciding between re-signing with them or retiring, although the Orioles have shown interest, and Burnett's offseason home is in Maryland. It's been almost two months since Burnett said he would take "a week or so" to decide whether to continue playing or retire.

11. Ubaldo Jimenez. The Indians want Jimenez to return, but it's unclear whether they'll make a big enough commitment to re-sign him. The Orioles might also be a possibility. Note that the last five names on this list are pitchers — with Tanaka unable to sign, Burnett a question mark, and David Price and Jeff Samardzija looming on the trade market, the free-agent market for pitching has been slow to develop.

14. Stephen Drew. Drew and Jhonny Peralta were the only big names on the shortstop market, and Peralta has already signed with the Cardinals, so Drew is a huge fish in a tiny pond. The Yankees need a second baseman after Robinson Cano and Omar Infante signed elsewhere, and a return to the Red Sox would still make sense, with Drew at shortstop and Xander Bogaerts at third. The Mets don't seem to be serious contenders.

17. Nelson Cruz. Cruz rejected a qualifying offer and is reportedly looking for a deal that pays $16MM or more a year, which may be a lot to player with limited defensive ability and scary offensive indicators. Cruz wants the Rangers to offer a three-year deal, but so far, they're only offering two. The Mariners continue to be connected to Cruz, even after adding Corey Hart and Logan Morrison.

23. Bronson Arroyo. Four teams have reportedly offered Arroyo two-year deals, but Arroyo, like Cruz, seems to be holding out for three. The Twins are still a possibility even after their signings of Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes and their re-signing of Mike Pelfrey. The Mets and Reds are contenders as well.

25. Grant Balfour. The Indians just agreed to terms with John Axford, and Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports noted (via Twitter) that one likely scenario for the rest of the bullpen market had Joaquin Benoit going to the Padres and Balfour heading to the Orioles. The Boston Herald's Jen Royle, meanwhile, reports that the Orioles have offered Balfour a three-year deal, but Balfour wants three years with a vesting option (Twitter links). In any case, the Orioles look like Balfour's most serious suitors by far right now, although Royle suggests the Mariners could also come into play.

Cafardo On Trumbo, Middlebrooks, Burnett, Morales

The Winter Meetings featured the three-team trade that sent Mark Trumbo to the Diamondbacks, as well as a number of other moves, but Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe argues that this year's meetings featured plenty of press, but comparatively little meaningful activity. Cafardo wonders whether baseball should issue a moratorium on moves before the Winter Meetings, so that the meetings themselves feature more signal and less noise. Here's more from Cafardo:

  • For the Diamondbacks, the Trumbo acquisition was about adding power, which is in short supply these days. "Just looking at the West, and looking at the National League and looking at the free agent market going forward, I just don’t know where you’re going to find power," says GM Kevin Towers.
  • If the Red Sox re-sign Stephen Drew, that would bump Xander Bogaerts to third base and make Will Middlebrooks a trade candidate. The Marlins, who are looking for a third baseman, would likely be interested.
  • Even after a report that the Orioles had interest in A.J. Burnett and had been in touch with his agent, the Pirates feel Burnett doesn't want to play for any other team. "There’s no reason for [Burnett] not to be back," says a Pirates official.
  • Four teams have offered two-year deals to free agent Bronson Arroyo, but Arroyo is holding out for a three-year deal, or maybe a two-year deal with a vesting option.
  • There doesn't appear to be a particularly robust market for Kendrys Morales, with the Mariners adding Corey Hart and Logan Morrison and the Angels likely to sign Raul Ibanez. The Orioles might be one possibility, but not at Morales' price.

Huntington On Free Agency, Burnett, First Base

In a Q&A yesterday with several bloggers, including Charlie Wilmoth of Bucs Dugout (and, of course, MLBTR), Pirates GM Neal Huntington tackled a series of transactional issues. You'll want to give a read to Charlie's writeup to get the full picture, but here are some key takeaways:

  • Huntington addressed previous comments in which he reportedly said if A.J. Burnett "or others want a market-value deal, they'll sign elsewhere." He did not deny the quote, but said it did not capture what he meant to convey. "What I certainly intended was that top-tier free agents, if they're looking for top-tier dollars, they're going to play somewhere else," said Huntington. "And that's not just Pittsburgh. That's probably half to maybe two-thirds of the markets in baseball." Huntington pointed to last year's signing of Russell Martin as an instance of the franchise topping the market for a player it valued highly; "so, it's not that we won't pay market value when it's appropriate."
  • Huntington added for the "right player, right contract, we'll absolutely go three years. We can go to four years if we need to. But it's got to be the right player for the right contract. It's just the margin for error is a little easier with some of the bigger-market clubs."
  • Burnett is still an option for the Pirates. "We're working to be as patient as we can with A.J.," Huntington said. "A.J. would be our biggest free-agent acquisition if he chooses to come back, so we've tried to keep that door open as long as we can."
  • Huntington denied the signing of Edinson Volquez will affect the team's pursuit of Burnett. "If A.J. decides to come back and we can make it work, we'll figure something out."
  • Huntington said there is a reason why the Pirates haven't been linked to many free agents. "We don't promote what we're doing. I don't call this reporter and say, 'Can you get our name in this mix?' We don't want some people to know what we're doing. We like to work in the background. I like nothing more than to surprise some people with a move, because we don't need to announce what we're doing."
  • Huntington said the front office hasn't been on the sidelines and is working hard, but admits, as compared to last offseason, he hasn't "felt this huge sense of urgency." Filling the Pirates' need at first base is a prime example. "The first base market is evolving. There's some guys that have gone off the board that we liked, but not for a cost that we felt was appropriate for us."

Edward Creech contributed to this post.

Orioles Interested In A.J. Burnett

A.J. Burnett still hasn't decided whether he'll pitch in 2014, but if he wants to continue his career, the Orioles are interested, MASNsports.com's Roch Kubatko tweets. Kubatko also notes that the Orioles met with Frontline, which represents Burnett, at the Winter Meetings. Burnett lives in Monkton, Maryland, about a half-hour north of Baltimore.

Burnett had previously indicated that he wanted to retire as a Pirate, but since then, he has taken his time deciding whether or not to return in 2014. The Pirates did not extend a qualifying offer to Burnett, with GM Neal Huntington telling Tom Singer of MLB.com, "If he or others want a market-value deal, they'll sign elsewhere." Burnett pitched 191 innings for the Pirates in 2013, posting a 3.30 ERA with 3.2 BB/9 and a league-leading 9.8 K/9. Burnett's 56.5% ground-ball percentage also led the National League.