A.J. Burnett Rumors


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."  

Agents Seek Another Bite At The Apple

For an agent, the motivation for an opt-out clause is obvious, and Genske says he'd ask for an opt-out for any top-tier free agent where he has the maximum amount of leverage.  "It's pretty unique that a player is going to put in all of the effort and all of the work to get to free agency, and have that ultimate leverage, and I think the opt-out provision is simply a player maintaining that control over their career that they've earned," says Genske.  Braunecker offered his thoughts, saying, "An opt-out adds almost unquantifiable value to a deal because the player gains a whole lot of leverage in the life of the deal as opposed to after the expiration of the deal." 

Indeed, the player can't lose with an opt-out clause.  The shot at free agency amounts to what one executive who worked on a deal with an opt-out described as "another bite at the apple, a chance to keep up with the market in case the market continues to run while he's performing over the course of time."  Look at the results of those extra bites so far.  Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta negotiated J.D. Drew's five-year, $55MM deal with agent Scott Boras in December 2004, and DePodesta's successor Ned Colletti seemed displeased and surprised when Drew opted out two years later.  Drew abandoned his remaining three years and $33MM and landed a five-year, $70MM deal with the Red Sox.

Alex Rodriguez opted out of the largest deal in baseball history seven years in, only to top that with a $275MM contract with the Yankees.  Boras' terrible choice to announce A-Rod's decision during the final game of the 2007 World Series aside, the player abandoning three years and $72MM came as no surprise by that point.  Burnett's decision came due after the '08 campaign.  As Braunecker notes, timing was everything, and Burnett's 231 strikeouts in 221 1/3 innings for the Jays in '08 compelled him to discard the remaining two years and $24MM on his contract.  He ultimately landed a five-year, $82.5MM contract with the Yankees.  Though C.C. Sabathia did not technically opt out of the four years and $92MM remaining on his deal after 2011, the leverage of the fast-approaching clause allowed Genske to add one year and $30MM to the deal.  

Rafael Soriano's Yankees contract, signed in January 2011, was an odd situation.  Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner and president Randy Levine did the deal with Boras, as GM Brian Cashman was opposed to the signing partially because signing the reliever required forfeiture of a draft pick.  Boras used the situation to demand opt-out clauses for Soriano after the first and second seasons of a three-year, $35MM deal.  Soriano chose not to opt out of two years and $25MM after a disappointing 2011 season.  After an excellent 2012, however, he took a $1.5MM buyout over a remaining one year and $14MM, signing a two-year, $28MM deal with deferred money with the Nationals.  Only Boras has achieved multiple opt-outs within one contract, with Elvis Andrus' 2013 eight-year, $120MM extension from last year allowing the shortstop to opt out after four or five years.     

Genske client Vernon Wells had three years and $63MM remaining when his clause came up.  After a disappointing 2011 campaign with the Angels, Wells made the obvious decision not to opt out.  Most MLB contracts are guaranteed, so the opt-out clause didn't end up adding value for Wells.  

The next opt-out due is Zack Greinke's after 2015, at which point he'll have $71MM remaining over three years.  He'll get the chance for another bite of the apple at age 32.  The remainder of Greinke's contract will equate to a $23.67MM average annual value.  Regardless of whether he can top that healthy AAV, he could extend his security by seeking a four or five-year deal.

Besides another shot at free agency, you will hear mention of other motivations.  Explained Genske, "Certainly with CC too, it was in part a comfort issue, being a California guy who envisioned going back to California who was going to go to New York, he wasn't sure how he'd like it. It turned out great, he likes it, but there was some uncertainty there which kind of necessitated the opt-out."

Braunecker expressed a similar geographic concern in Burnett's opt-out clause, but also questioned the direction of the Blue Jays.   "I wasn't completely certain particularly with Toronto where that organization was headed, and so rather than him being there for five years I wanted to give him the opportunity to shorten the deal in the event that he got up there in the event he didn't like it, living in Canada as opposed to the U.S., and also just I wasn't 100% certain which direction they were headed with things."

Why Teams Agree To Opt-Out Clauses

"Let's face it: free agent players are not coming to Toronto. That's just the way it is," professed former Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi.  "Everything is great about Toronto, but it's still foreign to a lot of players. It's not so much the players, it's their families. When players are on the free agent market, the families have a big say in what happens, so a lot of them say they'd really rather not go to another country to play."  Ricciardi said he found he needed to do three things to bring a top free agent to Toronto: "overpay, overcommit, and be creative."   For A.J. Burnett, that meant a five-year deal when many suitors stopped at four, a strong salary of $11MM a year, and an opt-out clause.

Ricciardi expressed a sentiment we heard from multiple executives, explaining, "Maybe it's just simplistic on my part, but I don't mind the opt-out.  It's not that big a deal for me in the sense that if it comes down to either having the player or not having the player, I'd rather have the player."  Burnett ended up compiling a 3.94 ERA across 522 2/3 innings for the Blue Jays from 2006-08 before opting out.  Ricciardi was pleased with the outcome, saying, "We got probably his three best combined years, so for us it was great."  A team can potentially duck a player's decline phase, which is the baggage that comes with a typical long-term deal.  

Look at the Yankees and Sabathia.  In the first three years of his deal, he provided the team with a 3.18 ERA in 705 regular season innings, finishing no lower than fourth in the Cy Young voting from 2009-11.  Had Sabathia signed elsewhere after 2011, the Yankees would have missed out on a strong 2012 campaign, but also would have avoided owing him a large amount of money for his age 32-35 seasons.  Ricciardi summed it up best: "I guess the old adage that you'd rather trade a guy a year too early than a year too late, maybe that applies with the opt-out."

A Potential Trend

Is the opt-out clause a growing trend in baseball?  From 2000-08, there were five opt-out clauses.  There were none in 2009-10, and then five from 2011 to present.  Of the last five, two were done by Boras and three by Excel Sports Management.  Excel's deals were for starting pitchers Greinke, Kershaw, and Tanaka, with two of those hurlers landing with the Dodgers.

Opt-out clauses seem more likely for large market teams, with the Yankees, Dodgers, and Rangers accounting for eight of the ten.  Ricciardi, who went against the grain by doing opt-out clauses with mid-level payrolls, feels large market teams don't have to be as desperate.  "I think if you're the Yankees and the Red Sox, there's a little bit more finances behind you, and you probably don't have to be as risk-taking in the sense of being open-minded about having stuff like this."  So far, the Yankees have given opt-out clauses to Sabathia, Soriano, and Tanaka, and also traded for A-Rod.  The Red Sox have never given a player an opt-out clause, so there's more to it than market size.  Sometimes the decision is philosophical.  The Cubs, for example, refused to offer the clause to Tanaka out of concern that he could leave shortly after their window of contention opens, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.

Alex Rodriguez earned the first opt-out clause through a combination of nearly every factor that can drive a contract into uncharted waters.  He was a superstar at a premium position, he was atypically young at 25, he was the best available free agent, and he had a precedent-setting agent in Boras.  In 2008, a 28-year Sabathia brought many of the same factors together; he was "the top free agent on the market and had all the leverage in the world," according to Genske.  Kershaw had A-Rod's youth and superstar talent, plus the precedent of teammate Greinke, creating enough leverage to get an opt-out a year prior to free agency.  Other times, being the best available free agent is the key driver of the opt-out clause, which applied to Burnett, Greinke, Tanaka, and Soriano.  Certainly youth played a role with Tanaka and Andrus.

These days, an opt-out clause is part of every agent's arsenal for premium clients who meet some of the above criteria, and that might not have been the case a decade ago.  Still, asking is not the same as receiving, and huge contracts for Albert Pujols, Robinson Cano, Joey Votto, Prince Fielder, and many others lack an opt-out clause.  While it's difficult to picture a Mike Trout megadeal without an opt-out, the opportunity for a player to take another bite at the apple midway through a long-term contract is likely to remain a rarity in MLB.

ALSO FROM MLB TRADE RUMORS:

Photo courtesy of Greg M. Cooper of USA Today Sports Images.



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.



Rosenthal On Kimbrel, Braves, Red Sox, Burnett

Here's the latest from Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports:

  • Rival executives aren't all enthusiastic about Craig Kimbrel's new deal with the Braves, citing the downside risk in long-term deals for closers. Rosenthal notes, however, that Kimbrel's new contract could reduce the Braves' payouts in what would have been his arbitration years.
  • The Braves' new ballpark galvanized the team's recent extension spree, GM Frank Wren says.
  • The Red Sox have enough depth that they don't need to worry about replacing Ryan Dempster in their rotation. The $13.25MM they would have paid Dempster also might not have a huge impact on whether or not they sign Stephen Drew. Signing Drew would cost the Red Sox the compensation pick they would receive if he were to sign elsewhere, and it would have implications for youngsters Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks as well.
  • A.J. Burnett says the two years he spent with the Pirates marked a new phase of his career. "I found who I was again, I guess," says Burnett. "I will never put myself in the same category as a (Roy) Halladay, ever. But as far as mentor-wise and player relations-wise, I became that guy over there. ... It showed me who I was, who I could have been for a long time that I wasn't." After the Yankees traded him to Pittsburgh, Burnett emerged as a leader to younger pitchers like Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton.



NL East: Kimbrel, Burnett, Simmons, Dice-K

It has been a newsworthy Sunday in the NL East with the Braves extending closer Craig Kimbrel and the Phillies announcing the signing of A.J. Burnett. Here's the latest on those two deals and the rest of the division:

  • Kimbrel's agent David Meter called Braves GM Frank Wren one week ago and the extension was finalized Friday night, according to David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
  • ESPN's Buster Olney tweets the Kimbrel extension is a win-win for both sides.
  • The Kimbrel extension sets a good precedent for baseball because it will tamp down arbitration salaries for closers and it signals no closer will ever receive more than a four-year contract, writes Jim Bowden of ESPN and MLB Network Radio (Insider subscription required).
  • Burnett told reporters, including the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Rob Biertempfel, he chose Philadelphia because of its proximity (a 90-minute drive) to his home in Monkton, MD. "This is the first time in my career that I made a decision that wasn't about A.J. Burnett. It was about my wife. It was about my kids. It was about playing somewhere where I'm at home and I can still do what I love. And that feels good. It was a no-brainer to me."
  • Burnett says he didn't receive much interest from the Nationals and Orioles, tweets Bob Nightengale of USA Today
  • Phillies Assistant GM Scott Proefrock, who lives a mile away from Burnett, told FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal the behind-the-scenes story of how the signing came about. 
  • Shortstop Andrelton Simmons could be next in line to receive an extension from the Braves, but Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets the two sides have a difference of opinion on the 24-year-old's future offensive value.
  • O'Brien tweets it's safe to say the Braves will extend Simmons either this year or next.
  • Daisuke Matsuzaka has a May 30 opt-out in his minor league deal with the Mets, tweets Sherman.



Phillies Sign A.J. Burnett

SUNDAY, 9:27am: Burnett's player option for 2015, which starts at $7.5MM, could potentially reach $12.75MM, reports Jayson Stark of ESPN.com. 

8:56am: Burnett can also earn $1.75MM in performance bonuses each year, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.  

8:34am: Burnett's 2014 salary is actually $15MM, though it will come out to $16MM if the Phillies exercise his $1MM buyout, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (Twitter link). If the option is exercised, he'll earn $15MM in '15.  If the team declines, he can trigger a $7.5MM option for '15. His limited no-trade protection will allow the veteran to name nine teams that he can be traded to (link).

8:03am: The Phillies announced the deal.  Within the press release, the Phillies disclosed that the deal includes a mutual/player option for 2015, performance and award bonuses, and a limited no-trade clause.

WEDNESDAY, 6:53pm: The contract may actually include a player option for 2015, tweets ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick, who explains that the final details are still being negotiated.

4:51pm: The deal includes a mutual option for 2015 as well as a limited no-trade clause, reports MLB.com's Todd Zolecki. The option value has not yet been reported.

10:53am: The Phillies have agreed to a one-year, $16MM deal with A.J. Burnett, reports Hayden Balgavy of THV 11 in Arkansas (Twitter links). Burnett is represented by Frontline Athlete Management.

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Burnett's future was shrouded in mystery for much of the offseason, as he took considerably longer than originally expected to determine whether he would pitch in 2014 or retire. He said near season's end that he was "50-50" on the decision and added that if he pitched again, he would do so in a Pirates' uniform. Clearly that line of thinking changed, perhaps when Pittsburgh declined to make him a $14.1MM qualifying offer. Given his $16MM guarantee from the Phillies, it's also possible that the Pirates simply knew they wouldn't be able to afford Burnett (that would explain their early signing of Edinson Volquez). Burnett earned $16.5MM in 2013, but Pittsburgh was only on the hook for $8MM of that total, as the Yankees paid a large portion of his salary when trading him to the Pirates prior to the 2012 campaign.

In Pittsburgh, Burnett revitalized a career that looked to be on its downswing following the second and third seasons of a five-year, $82.5MM contract he signed with the Yankees in the 2008-09 offseason. Burnett posted a 5.20 ERA with 7.6 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 in 3777 innings from 2010-11 with New York, prompting GM Brian Cashman to trade him to Pittsburgh in exchange for salary relief and a pair of marginal prospects (Exicardo Cayones and Diego Moreno).

The Pirates paid Burnett just $13MM from 2012-13 and were rewarded for their leap of faith, as Burnett turned in an outstanding 3.41 ERA with 8.9 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in 393 1/3 innings. His ground-ball rate soared to 56.7 percent in that two-year span, tying him with Justin Masterson for the second-best mark in all of baseball among qualified starters (Trevor Cahill was first).

While it's a surprise to see the Phillies sign Burnett, it's not a surprise to see general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. swing a deal that few would have anticipated early in the offseason. Amaro himself said early on that he would try to be creative in seeking significant upgrades that few would expect. This isn't the first time he's inked an unexpected free agent either. When Cliff Lee signed his five-year, $125MM contract in Philadelphia, most of the baseball world was anticipating that he would end up with either the Yankees or the Rangers.

Burnett will add to a Phillies rotation that is fronted by Lee and Cole Hamels, slotting in as a strong No. 3 option behind that pair of ace-caliber southpaws. Kyle Kendrick should hold down the fourth slot, while fellow offseason signee Roberto Hernandez and Cuban right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonazlez figure to battle for the final spot in manager Ryne Sandberg's rotation.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



Phillies Designate Joe Savery For Assignment

The Phillies announced that they have designated Joe Savery for assignment in order to create room on the 40-man roster for the newly-inked A.J. Burnett.  Savery, 28, has spent parts of the last three seasons on the Phillies' major league roster.

The left-hander owns a 4.15 ERA with 6.0 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9 across 41 career major league relief appearances.  He spent the bulk of last season at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where he posted a 3.80 ERA with 11.0 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 in 20 outings.

To keep up with every player in DFA limbo, check out MLBTR's DFA tracker.



NL Notes: Nationals, Burnett, Bastardo, Marshall

Major League Baseball is dealing with several employment issues not relating to big league players. As Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com reported yesterday, MLB owners voted in January to permit teams the authority to take away pension plans from any employees that do not wear a uniform. (The effect would be prospective only.) MLB COO Rob Manfred noted that the vote does not require such a course of action and said no team has cut pension benefits, while asserting defined contribution plans are a reasonable alternative retirement structure. Though Rubin reports that some clubs appear primed to make reductions, Manfred disputed that it was inevitable. Meanwhile, as Wendy Thurm of Fangraphs details, MLB is now defending multiple lawsuits filed by interns, volunteers, and, most recently, minor league ballplayers. 

Here are some notes from the National League ...

  • After today's trade for catcher Jose Lobaton and a pair of prospects, Nationals GM Mike Rizzo explained his reasoning, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post was among those to report. RIzzo said that Lobaton "fit the criteria we were looking for" due to his switch-hitting abilities and solid pitch-framing ratings, the latter of which Rizzo labeled "key" to the deal. "Switch hitting is certainly a bonus," said Rizzo. "Our statistical analysis people rank all the catchers in baseball, and he ranks very well in the framing." Rizzo said that he was particularly high on Felipe Rivero, indicating that he felt like he took the place of fellow 22-year-old southpaw Robbie Ray, who was shipped out in the Doug Fister deal. The Washington GM labeled Rivero a "huge-upside left-handed starter."
  • The Pirates' inability to reel back A.J. Burnett is based, at root, in a decision not to allocate all of the club's free payroll space to one arm, writes Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Though Pittsburgh ultimately made a $12MM offer to Burnett, the club went into the off-season hoping to spread approximately $17MM to $19MM among multiple acquisitions, and came close to landing both Josh Johnson and James Loney. That explains much of the team's decision not to make Burnett a qualifying offer, says Sawchik, though he opines that the offer likely would have been declined. "It's always easy to look in hindsight," said GM Neal Huntington. "If [Burnett had] accepted the offer it would have had a significant impact on what we could have done. ... It would have affected our approach on the first base market, the right field market, and bullpen market. If we had [a] crystal ball and seen this is the way it would play out maybe things are different."
  • Even after inking Burnett to a $16MM deal that reportedly pushes the Phillies player contract tab right up to (if not over) the $189MM luxury tax line, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said today that the club's payroll remains flexible, tweets Bob Nightengale of USA Today.
  • Philadelphia reliever Antonio Bastardo will look to return from a 50-game PED suspension last year arising out of the Biogenesis scandal. In addition to expressing contrition today, he said that he faced a 100-game ban had he appealed, tweets Nightengale.
  • Reds GM Walt Jocketty explained how his club came to claim Cubs righty Brett Marshall off of waivers, as MLB.com's Mark Sheldon reports"I talked to him and he sounded like a good kid," said Jocketty. "We had good reports on him. He had one of the best changeups in the Yankees organization. He's a sinkerballer with a good slider. He's got a couple of options left."



Quick Hits: Bailey, Burnett, Twins, Samardzija

Even though most of Alex Rodriguez's 2014 salary will be wiped out by his season-long PED suspension, the controversial slugger's contract is still ranked as the worst in baseball by Grantland's Jonah Keri.  Of Keri's list of the 15 worst contracts in the sport, the Dodgers have four, the Yankees, Angels and Braves each have two and the Reds, Rangers, Phillies, Blue Jays and White Sox have one each.

Here are some items from around the baseball world...

  • The Reds and Homer Bailey are "still talking" about a multiyear contract, GM Walt Jocketty tells MLB.com's Mark Sheldon.  "There has not been a lot of progress, but good conversations anyhow," Jocketty said.  Bailey's arbitration hearing is scheduled for February 20 and there is a $2.9MM gap ($11.6MM to $8.7MM) between his demands and the Reds' offer for a 2014 contract.  This is Bailey's last season under contract with Cincinnati and the two sides are reportedly far apart on a long-term deal.  Sheldon suggests that the Reds will be watching the Indians' case with Justin Masterson, as he and Bailey have posted comparable numbers over the last three years and Masterson is also scheduled to be a free agent next offseason.
  • The Pirates offered A.J. Burnett a $12MM contract for 2014, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reports (Twitter link).  This obviously fell short of the $16MM Burnett received from the Phillies earlier today.
  • The Twins aren't one of the teams interested in Emilio Bonifacio, 1500 ESPN's Darren Wolfson reports (via Twitter).  Bonifacio cleared release waivers and became a free agent earlier today.  The Orioles are known to be one of at least nine teams interested in the speedy utilityman.
  • Also from Wolfson, a Twins official said that the club "had extensive talks" about Erisbel Arruebarruena but he was judged to be too expensive.  The Cuban shortstop agreed to a deal with the Dodgers today that could be worth as much as $25MM.
  • The Cubs can afford to be patient in trading Jeff Samardzija, Fangraphs' Jeff Sullivan argues, as teams may be more willing to meet Chicago's large asking price once the free agent pitching market thins out and teams get more desperate once the season begins.
  • Right-hander Josh Roenicke is drawing interest from a "handful of teams" and could be signed soon, a source tells MLB Daily Dish's Chris Cotillo (Twitter link).  Roenicke posted a 4.35 ERA, 6.5 K/9 and 1.25 K/BB rate in 62 relief innings with the Twins in 2013 before being outrighted off Minnesota's roster in November.
  • Also from Cotillo, right-hander Blake Hawksworth has retired.  Hawksworth posted a 4.07 ERA and 1.85 K/BB over 124 games (eight as a starter) with the Cardinals and Dodgers from 2009-11 before elbow and shoulder injuries derailed his career.  Hawksworth has taken a job with the Boras Corporation, his former agency.
  • Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill discussed the club's recent signing of Carlos Marmol with Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald.
  • Luis Ayala chose to sign a minor league deal with the Nationals since they (as the Expos) were the franchise that originally signed him and he still has many friends in the organization, the veteran reliever tells Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post.  Several teams were linked to Ayala this offseason but the bidding came down to the Nats, Tigers and Phillies.



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.









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