A.J. Burnett Rumors
The idea that the Pirates would trade for David Price is "pure nonsense," writes the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ron Cook. The Pirates would have to pay about $30MM for two seasons of Price, and would have to give up lots of value in prospects as well. "There are a lot fewer clubs that can play at the top of the market than clubs that can't," Pirates GM Neal Huntington says. "We just can't afford to do 'X.' Well, we could, but then how would we build a championship-caliber club around that one player?" Huntington also says the single biggest improvement the Bucs can make is re-signing A.J. Burnett, who continues to consider whether to play for one more year or to retire. Here are more notes from the Central divisions.
- The Pirates could look for a first baseman, starting pitcher, shortstop and/or right fielder this week, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. Biertempfel notes that the Pirates "checked in on" starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo. If so, that might indicate that they're not hopeful that Burnett will be back next year.
- The Royals offered Carlos Beltran three years and over $40MM, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman tweets. Beltran ended up going to the Yankees for three years and $45MM. Heyman also notes that the Royals will also be bidding against the Yankees for infielder Omar Infante.
- The White Sox have demonstrated interest in Chase Headley of the Padres, Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times reports. As Van Schouwen notes, that's a little odd, unless the White Sox think they can sign Headley to an extension -- the White Sox aren't expected to contend in 2014, and Headley is a free agent after the season.
Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review relays a host of updates on the Pirates (all links to Twitter):
- One area where GM Neal Huntington hopes to make a move is at first. Though the club believes that Gaby Sanchez can increase his production against same-handed pitching, he is still in need of a platoon partner to hit righties.
- The Pirates have joined seven other clubs in reaching out to shortstop Rafael Furcal, his representatives at Kinzer Management Group told Sawchik.
- Turning to the still-unresolved situation of free agent starter A.J. Burnett, Huntington said he was hoping to see some movement. "It has not inhibited our abiity to do things at this point in time," said Huntington, "but there is no question it is something we would like to see move forward if it's possible. If not, we'll have to operate as we see fit." The GM had more pointed words as well, telling MLB.com's Tom Singer that, "if he or others want a market-value deal, they'll sign elsewhere." As Singer notes, there must be at least some temptation for Burnett to look outside the Pittsburgh market given the money promised recently to mid-to-late 30's starters like Dan Haren ($10MM, one year) and Tim Hudson ($23MM, two years).
- On the club's acquisition today of outfielder Jaff Decker and righty Miles Mikolas, Huntington noted that Decker can play anywhere in the outfield and has a realistic shot at making the team's active roster out of Spring Training. Huntington also indicated that Decker has appeal both from an analytic and a scouting perspective. As for Mikolas, Huntington indicated that his groundball inducing abilities were the primary draw.
- Meanwhile, Garrett Jones, who lost his roster spot as part of the day's dealings, was just going to be too expensive to bring back, according to Huntington. "[T]he arbitration process was likely to drive the dollars above where we were comfortable," the GM said. Decker's move to Pittsburgh could also have an impact on Travis Snider, with respect to whom Huntington would only say that the front office is "working through the process."
We heard earlier today that the Brewers explored a trade for Mets first baseman Ike Davis but talks went nowhere, and that the Brew Crew aren't going to deal Norichika Aoki. Let's check in elsewhere around the NL Central...
- The Pirates have been looking at "high upside" starting pitchers in their initial round of free agent calls, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports (Twitter link).
- Pirates GM Neal Huntington said that his team is open to discussing a long-term deal with second baseman Neil Walker, FOX Sports' Jon Paul Morosi reports (Twitter link).
- Also from Morosi (Twitter links), the Pirates will probably add a starter from outside the organization if A.J. Burnett retires or signs elsewhere. Huntington said Burnett hasn't yet given the Pirates any indication if he will retire or pitch in 2014.
- David Freese has seemingly gone from World Series hero to forgotten man in St. Louis. Bernie Miklasz of the St Louis Post-Dispatch looks at the Cardinals' options with their once-star third baseman and where he fits into the club's plans.
- It has been assumed that Carlos Beltran will leave the Cardinals this winter but GM John Mozeliak tells reporters (including MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch) that it isn't quite a done deal. "I still think it's a situation where the door's open but we haven't made any decisions either way. In time, we'll see," Mozeliak said.
- Jed Hoyer isn't surprised by the Jeff Samardzija trade talk, the Cubs general manager tells reporters (including ESPN Chicago's Jesse Rogers). “Teams know we’ve had discussions with him and we haven’t signed him. That's part of it," Hoyer said. "I think teams will certainly inquire about him. He’s really proved over the last two years he has great stuff and is a tough competitor. I think teams will ask us about him so to that extent there could be rumors." Samardzija is reportedly unlikely to sign an extension and he has been linked to the Nationals and Diamondbacks in recent rumors.
- Also from Hoyer, he says the Cubs will be looking to add veterans to replace Alfonso Soriano and David DeJesus' clubhouse leadership.
- Chicago native Curtis Granderson would be a big addition both on and off the field for Cubs or White Sox, yet as CSN Chicago's Dan Hayes notes, both teams' focus on adding younger talent makes them hesitant to give up the second round draft pick it would take to sign Granderson.
In an interview last night, Pirates GM Neal Huntington told David Todd of 970 ESPN (audio link) that the club did not make A.J. Burnett a qualifying offer because it could not afford the $14.1MM hit to its 2014 budget. (Hat tip to Bucs Dugout, where MLBTR's Charlie Wilmoth discussed the impact of Huntington's words from the Pirates' perspective.)
Though the Bucs will increase payroll, said Huntington, a qualifying offer-level salary occupies a "significant chunk of your payroll" for low-budget clubs. Comparing the Pirates to teams like the Rays and A's, he explained that building a winner in a small market is more complicated than just getting players at reasonably sub-market rates:
"It's not where we value A.J. Burnett, it's how do we build a championship team in the big picture. And as we look to fill some of the other gaps that we have, or we look to upgrade some of the other spots we feel we'd like to upgrade and should upgrade if possible, we felt that $14MM in one player was a bit steep for us."
Huntington sounded less than sanguine about the odds of a return, saying only that Pittsburgh is "still kind of trying to keep that door open" while declining to answer whether discussions were active. After earning every bit of his $16.5MM salary last year, Burnett would apparently need to accept a significant salary cut to don gold and black again in 2014. (After correctly forecasting that the Bucs would not extend a QO, MLBTR's Steve Adams predicted that Burnett would ultimately take a salary cut to $12MM on a one-year deal.)
On the other hand, there are certainly strategic explanations for these comments. Burnett may have burned some leverage by saying he'd either come back to Pittsburgh or retire, perhaps leaving more room for the Buccos to try and bust down the rate. As Huntington discussed in the interview, his club's narrow margin for error makes every dollar count, and any savings on the Burnett deal could make a big difference in the club's other offseason plans.
Huntington went on to criticize the QO system, noting that the Yankees and Red Sox made six of the thirteen offers. The system "didn't really do what it was intended to do," said Huntington, offering his opinion that the Indians and Royals probably hope that their offerees -- Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana -- decline.
On the issue of national TV money, Huntington noted that, contrary to the oft-repeated line, "it's not $25MM to every team." That is an average, he said: the team does not yet have its precise distribution, and the Commissioner could hold back some dollars for league-wide initiatives.
Either way, according to Huntington, small market teams won't get any relative advantage from the new money. Todd suggested that the high payroll clubs would begin to have luxury tax issues if they spent up their new cash, resulting in a net benefit to small-market clubs. But Huntington said the luxury tax "hasn't been that big of a drag on those [teams] that have gone over it," at least when they can avoid too many years in a row above the line.
The Nationals are looking to add an "elite" starting pitcher via trade, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, and they're in luck, as both Max Scherzer and David Price have been rumored to be available this winter. Rosenthal explains his reasons behind believing that Scherzer could be a better fit, highlighted by the fact that Nats GM Mike Rizzo drafte Scherzer in the first round when he was the Diamondbacks' scouting director. Rosenthal's sources maintain that the Tigers aren't shopping Scherzer at this point but rather just listening to offers. Here's more from a jam-packed column from Rosenthal...
- The Phillies have kicked around the idea of trading for Price, but it's unlikely to happen. The Phils would likely have to include top prospect Jesse Biddle in a potential package and perhaps Domonic Brown as well. Also, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. recognizes that his club has multiple needs and that he will need to make multiple additions rather than going "all-in" on one big splash like Price or free agent center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury.
- While many will argue that Tim Lincecum's deal doesn't impact the free agent markte for starting pitchers because it was the Giants paying to keep one of their own, Rosenthal points out that other starters and their agents will argue the direct opposite -- "that the Lincecum contract was merely the outgrowth of supply-and-demand economics." In particular, he feels that it hurts the Pirates in their quest to retain A.J. Burnett. Rosenthal wonders how the Bucs can possibly retain Burnett after Lincecum got $17.5MM per year when they didn't even want to offer Burnett a $14.1MM qualifying offer.
- The Rangers are once again pondering their infield logjam and whether or not to trade one of Elvis Andrus or Ian Kinsler. Kinsler could also be moved to first, though it may be less appealing that moving Kinsler and his salary ($57MM through 2017). Kinsler's contract makes him the easier of the two to trade. Figuring out the middle infield and securing some salary relief could be the key to the Rangers' offseason, he adds.
- The Mariners consider right-handed pop their biggest need, and Rosenthal wonders if they'll take a second run at Mike Napoli, who they tried to land last offseason.
Burnett, 37 in January, pitched to a 3.30 ERA with 9.8 K/9 (the highest rate in the National League), 3.2 BB/9 and a 56.2 percent ground-ball rate in 191 innings in his second season with the Pirates. Burnett has publicly stated that his decision this offseason is between returning to the Pirates and retiring, so the Pirates likely felt that they didn't need to risk the $14.1MM salary. If he elects to pitch again, it's possible that the Pirates could work out a one-year deal at a lower rate, as I projected in my free agent profile of Burnett, predicting one year and $12MM to return to the Bucs.
The Pirates will try to re-sign pitcher A.J. Burnett, outfielder Marlon Byrd and shortstop Clint Barmes, and they may extend Burnett a qualifying offer, MLB.com's Tom Singer reports. Burnett is still deciding between playing for the Pirates for one more year and retiring, but Singer suggests that the most likely route is that Burnett will accept their qualifying offer. Since Burnett has already said he wants to retire as a Pirate, the Bucs do not need to worry much about their five-day exclusive negotiating period, except in the sense that whether or not they re-sign Burnett will have a significant impact on the rest of their offseason plans.
Byrd, who arrived via an August trade with the Mets, would continue to serve as the Pirates' right fielder if he were to re-sign. If he does not, the bulk of the playing time will likely go to Jose Tabata, with prospects Andrew Lambo and Gregory Polanco behind him. After posting a .291/.336/.511 season in 2013, Byrd will likely be in line for a multiyear deal, even at age 36.
Barmes made $5.5MM in the second year of his two-year deal with the Bucs in 2013. He hit poorly in both seasons and lost his starting shortstop job to Jordy Mercer, but he still has value due to his strong defense. If the Pirates retain him, it would likely be on a cheap one-year deal to back up Mercer.
The Bucs will try to negotiate with Byrd and Barmes before the bidding opens to other teams, Singer reports. He also notes that the Pirates are unlikely to re-sign first baseman Justin Morneau, catcher John Buck, or pitchers Jeff Karstens or Kyle Farnsworth.
The Boston Red Sox are the 2013 World Series champions, just a season removed from a last-place finish in the AL East. CBS Sports' Jon Heyman details how the Sox focused on acquiring less-heralded free agents who could handle the pressure of playing in Boston, and almost all of those free agents delivered big contributions throughout the season and through the playoffs. While the return to good health and good form by several holdover Red Sox stars also played a huge role, several teams will be looking to replicate Boston's free agent strategy in the coming offseason.
Here are some notes from around baseball as the Hot Stove League has officially begun...
- The Red Sox were immeasurably helped by the "payroll miracle" of their August 2012 blockbuster trade with the Dodgers, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes. The Yankees could get a similar "financial reset" if all or most of Alex Rodriguez's 2014 salary is removed from the books via suspension, allowing the Yankees to re-sign Robinson Cano, sign other free agents and also avoid the $189MM luxury tax limit.
- Rodriguez's appeal hearing may not be decided until late December, Andy McCullough of the Star-Ledger reports, which could impact the Yankees' offseason spending plans.
- Adrian Cardenas, drafted 37th overall by the Phillies in 2006, walked away from a promising career at age 25 and with just 67 Major League PA to his name. In a fascinating piece for the New Yorker, Cardenas details the thought process that went into his decision and his gradual disillusionment with the professional side of the game.
- The Diamondbacks don't have much payroll flexibility for 2014, as The Arizona Republic's Nick Piecoro notes in his breakdown of the Snakes' salary obligations. Piecoro suggests that the D'Backs could sign free agents by backloading their contracts for 2015 and beyond, when the club has more money coming off the books.
- The Dominican Republic recently passed a law stating that children of undocumented Haitian immigrants would no longer be considered Dominican citizens, even if they were born in the country. Jorge Arangure of Sports On Earth investigates how this ruling could make it harder for amateur ballplayers of Haitian descent to obtain the proper visa or citizenship information to play in Major League Baseball.
- The Pirates can afford to be more patient this offseason, GM Neal Huntington tells Jenn Menendez and Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A.J. Burnett's future needs to be decided first, however, since his status will determine the rest of the Buccos' moves. "If we retain A.J, that will be a significant positive, but also it's going to cost us a good chunk of the available money, and we'll have to react accordingly," Huntington said.
- The Marlins could fill a few needs by targeting the Angels' Mark Trumbo and Chris Iannetta in trades, MLB.com's Joe Frisaro opines as part of a reader mailbag.
- The Blue Jays have hired Kevin Seitzer as their new hitting coach, Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star reports. Seitzer previously worked as the hitting coach for the Diamondbacks and Royals, and he and Jays manager John Gibbons worked together on the K.C. staff from 2009-11.
When the Yankees were able to obtain some salary relief and a pair of warm bodies (Diego Moreno and Exicardo Cayones) for the final two years of A.J. Burnett's contract, many in New York celebrated the move. Burnett had struggled in his second and third years with the Bombers, but the Pirates were optimistic. As GM Neal Huntington recently explained to me, Pittsburgh scouts saw a "plus pitch package" in Burnett, and he checked out favorably in several metrics on which they place an emphasis. Burnett has resurfaced as a top-of-the-rotation arm with the Bucs and is now set to hit free agency entering his age-37 season. He's still not sure whether he'll retire or continue his career, but let's examine his free agency under the assumption that he chooses to play...
There's perhaps no better trio of skills for a starting pitcher to possess than the ability to miss bats, the ability to induce ground-balls and the ability to limit walks. Burnett has all three of those. His 9.8 K/9 rate led the Senior Circuit, and his 10.6 percent swinging-strike rate tied him with Stephen Strasburg for ninth in the NL. Burnett's 56.5 percent ground-ball rate was tops among qualified NL starters as well, and his 3.2 BB/9 mark, while a bit behind the MLB average of 2.8 for starters, is plenty respectable.
The more sabermetrically inclined crowd will appreciate the fact that Burnett's 2.80 FIP, 2.92 xFIP and 3.10 SIERA all lead this year's crop of free agent starting pitchers. His 4.0 fWAR trail only James Shields and Jon Lester among possible free agents, and each of those hurlers is a lock to have his club option exercised, preventing them from hitting the open market. Simply put, advanced metrics are in love with Burnett.
However, the more traditional set of stats will tell us that Burnett was quite good in 2013 as well. He totaled a 3.30 ERA in 191 innings of work and held opponents to a paltry .231/.304/.335, essentially reducing every hitter he faced to the equivalent of Kevin Frandsen (.234/.296/.341) or Eric Young (.249/.310/.336).
The Pirates love Burnett, but a $14.1MM salary might be steep for their modest payroll, especially with big arbitration raises in store for Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Mark Melancon and Charlie Morton. That group figures to earn a collective $9.2MM more than in 2013, and with built-in raises for Andrew McCutchen, Jason Grilli, Russell Martin and Franciso Liriano in store, a qualifying offer seems unlikely for Burnett. As such, he shouldn't require a draft pick to sign.
Burnett has been more healthy in recent years, but there's no overlooking the fact that he'll be 37 on Opening Day next year and has 11 different stints on the big league DL under his belt. The only recent DL stint that wasn't due to a fluke injury was the calf strain that cost him four weeks of his 2013 season, but Burnett's body has a lot of wear and tear on it.
Excellent as he's been lately, Burnett's detractors will point to his time in New York and much of his time in Toronto and say that he simply isn't the same pitcher in the American League when he doesn't have the benefit of facing opposing pitchers. Burnett has a career 3.63 ERA in the NL (3.41 in his most recent 393 innings with Pittsburgh) but a 4.39 ERA In the AL. The 5.20 ERA he posted in his final two seasons with the Yankees, in particular, could give AL clubs pause.
There's also the fact that, right or wrong, Burnett's free agency may be tarnished by his most recent results. Burnett made just one postseason appearance with the Pirates -- a two-inning, seven-run shellacking at Busch Stadium. That performance and his historic struggles at Busch Stadium led manager Clint Hurdle to start rookie Gerrit Cole over Burnett in the decisive Game 5 of the NLDS. Burnett would have liked to prove that he could defeat the Cardinals on the road and send his team to the NLCS, but he's instead left with a simple "what if" as he and agent Darek Braunecker of Frontline Sports Management talk with interested clubs in the offseason.
Burnett has two children, Ashton and Allan Jr., with his wife Karen. The pitcher helped to endorse the Adam Walsh Children’s Fund and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children while playing in Miami in 2001 and 2002 and also served as the national spokesman for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Burnett has gone on record recently as saying he's 50-50 on retiring, and he wants to end his Major League career as a Pirate. Those comments were made before the team's disappointing departure from the postseason, so perhaps Burnett will return for another year, fueled by a desire to lead the Bucs to a World Series and redeem himself for his postseason miscue. It's hard to imagine him signing anywhere else, but contending teams looking at one-year rotation pieces like the Nationals and Dodgers may still call in the offseason to gauge their chances. The Pirates have said they will do everything in their power to retain Burnett, and they're clearly the runaway favorites to land him -- if he pitches.
Burnett has earned more than $120MM in his career, according to Baseball-Reference.com, so he may not seek to maximize his salary, especially not with the Pirates' tight payroll. I have no doubt that if he wanted to hit the open market in search of a two-year deal, Burnett could surpass Ryan Dempster's $26.5MM guarantee over that same term. However, given his uncertainty toward pitching in 2014, it seems unlikely that he'd want to lock himself into a contract for 2015 as well. As such, I expect that Burnett will sign a one-year, $12MM contract with the Pirates or simply call it a career this offseason.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The NLCS is taking a day off as the scene shifts to Los Angeles for Game 3 tomorrow night with the Cardinals leading the Dodgers 2-0. Here is the latest news and notes out of the National League today:
- The Rockies need to improve their talent acquisition via the draft and Latin America in order to overcome the crushing injuries suffered in recent seasons, according to Troy E. Renck of the Denver Post. Tim Hudson, whose free agency was profiled this past week by MLBTR's Steve Adams, would make a perfect middle-of-the-rotation starter for the Rockies, Renck opines.
- The Pirates' payroll will increase significantly in 2014 aiding their efforts to retain free agents Marlon Byrd and A.J. Burnett while also trying to sign Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez to long-term extensions, reports the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Rob Biertempfel.
- The Mets will face a dilemma with their 40-man roster when it comes time to protect minor league players from the Rule 5 draft, reports ESPNNewYork.com's Adam Rubin. The Mets' 40-man roster is currently full and will be so again once the eight players on the 60-day disabled list replace the eight pending free agents on the 40-man. Jordany Valdespin headlines Rubin's list of eight Mets who could lose their roster spot.
- The Reds' managerial search is centered on pitching coach Bryan Price and Triple-A manager Jim Riggleman, writes John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Fay expects Price to get the job; but, if neither candidate impresses ownership in upcoming interviews, the search may be expanded.
- Nationals third-base coach Trent Jewett has an excellent shot to become the team's next manager, reports ESPN.com's Buster Olney (Insider subscription required).