A.J. Burnett Rumors
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).
This edition of MLBTR's Free Agent Faceoff will examine a pair of veteran right-handers coming off strong seasons that can potentially be had on a one-year deal in 2014 -- Hiroki Kuroda and A.J. Burnett.
Kuroda, who turns 39 in Februrary, is coming off a second consecutive impressive season in the AL East. In spite of the hitters' paradise that is Yankee Stadium, Kuroda has posted strong -- and nearly identical -- seasons in 2012-13. Over that time, he's posted a 3.31 ERA with 6.8 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9, though his innings total in 2013 fell from 219 2/3 to 201 1/3. Kuroda has stranded runners at a rate that's well above the league average for each of the past three seasons, helping him to outperform some of his peripheral stats. Averaging between 91-92 mph on his fastball, Kuroda sits slightly above the league average in swinging-strike rate but relies more on his pristine command and plus ground-ball rate for success. In 2013, his splitter produced a 70.2 percent ground-ball rate, and his overall ground-ball rate from 2012-13 is a healthy 49.5 percent. Kuroda is very durable and hasn't been on the disabled list since 2009.
Burnett is two years younger than Kuroda, as he's set to turn 37 in January. Unlike Kuroda, Burnett relies heavily on the strikeout, having racked up 389 punchouts in 393 1/3 innings over the past two seasons. His 3.41 ERA since 2012 is very similar to Kuroda's, though doesn't have the same command; Burnett has walked three batters per nine innings over the past two seasons and was at 3.2 in 2013. He misses more bats (10.6% swinging-strike rate in 2013 compared to Kuroda's 9.9) and throws a bit harder (92.5 mph), relying on a curveball as his out pitch. Burnett is no slouch with ground-balls either and is actually at nearly 57 percent in that department since joining the Bucs. He missed four weeks with a calf strain this summer.
Both right-handers are getting up there in years, but both are clearly still effective. While some might prefer Burnett's relative youth and his swing-and-miss arsenal to Kuroda's sharper command, Kuroda's supporters will point to the fact that he's succeeding in one of the game's toughest divisions and toughest parks for pitchers. There's the possibility, of course, that one or both of these pitchers will retire this offseason. For the purposes of this post, let's assume that's not the case and ask the question...
Veteran Justin Morneau was in Minnesota for his entire career before the summer trade that shipped him to the Pirates, but the adjustment wasn't too difficult for him thanks to a familiar element, writes Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun. “[Manager Clint Hurdle] speaks the same language as Ron Gardenhire,” said Morneau. “He’ll come up and say ‘[I'm] going to give you a blow tomorrow.’ I know I’m getting the day off. Gardenhire used to say it.” Elliott spoke with several Pirates players about their respect for Hurdle and their appreciation for him as a motivator. Here's a look at more from the NL Central..
- Win or lose, Pirates GM Neal Huntington hopes to keep his team together for 2014, writes Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com. That means keeping veteran pitcher A.J. Burnett and midseason acquisitions Marlon Byrd and Morneau. Byrd figures to see a significant raise over his $700K salary while Morneau ($15MM) and Burnett ($16.5MM) will obviously earn less in 2014.
- John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer (on Twitter) says that there's a decent chance that the Reds will re-sign reliever Manny Parra. The soon-to-be 31-year-old pitched to a 3.33 ERA with 11.0 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9.
- John Erardi of the Cincinnati Enquirer believes that Mets minor league skipper Wally Backman would be a good fit for the Reds' managerial vacancy.
- The Cardinals' 2009 draft class is a huge reason for their success in 2013, writes MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch. That draft saw St. Louis tap Shelby Miller (first round), Joe Kelly (third), Matt Carpenter (13th), Trevor Rosenthal (21st) and Matt Adams (23rd).
- Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch looks at the host of Pirates first-round picks that didn't work out but notes that the trend began to change with Neil Walker in 2004. Since that time, the Bucs have also selected Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez and Gerrit Cole in the first round.
Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett could be making his last career start when he takes the hill tonight against the Reds. The Pirates have clinched a playoff spot, of course, but they're extremely likely to end up in a one-game playoff, also against Cincinnati. Francisco Liriano figures to start that game, and if the Pirates lose it, their season would be over. Burnett recently told the press he was "50-50" about whether he would play in 2014, although the Pirates have shown strong interest in bringing him back. Here are more notes from the NL Central.
- Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and the Cubs are likely to make a decision about manager Dale Sveum and his coaching staff by Monday, Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com reports (via Twitter). Sveum's status has been uncertain for weeks now, with rumblings that the Cubs always considered him a placeholder until they were ready to compete. A strong year for the Cubs' top prospects may have convinced Epstein and Hoyer to be more aggressive in finding a manager for next season. The Cubs have gone 66-93 while rebuilding in 2013.
- The Brewers will exercise outfielder Norichika Aoki's option, MLB.com's Adam McCalvy reports (via Twitter). Aoki's option is only for $1.5MM (with a $250K buyout) and so, as McCalvy notes, the decision was likely an easy one for Milwaukee. Aoki has produced a combined 4.2 WAR in his two seasons with the Brewers, including 1.7 in a 2013 season in which he's hit .287/.357/.368.
Pirates GM Neal Huntington says his team will do "everything in our power" to keep starting pitcher A.J. Burnett, provided Burnett determines he does not want to retire, Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune-Review tweets. Burnett, who is a free agent after the season, recently said he was "50-50" about the possibility of pitching in 2014, and that he wanted to retire as a Pirate.
Since coming to Pittsburgh via a trade with the Yankees before the 2012 season, Burnett has been the most consistent pitcher in the Pirates' rotation, and with 10.0 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, a 3.39 ERA, and a devastating curveball, he appears to have more left in the tank. After a 12-strikeout performance against the Reds Saturday night, Burnett has 203 strikeouts for the year, becoming the first Pirate to clear 200 strikeouts in a season since Oliver Perez did it in 2004.
SEPT. 21: Burnett says he remains "50-50" on whether or not he'll play next year, reports Karen Price of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He reiterated that, if he does not hang up his spikes, he wants to stay in Pittsburgh. "I do want to go out with a bang," said Burnett, "and I do want to go out a Pirate."
After logging a 3.51 ERA in 202 1/3 innings in 2012, Burnett has followed up with 176 innings of 3.43 ERA pitching this year, including a career-best 9.8 K/9. Bucs GM Neil Huntington said that the team "certainly ha[s] interest in A.J. returning." Though it sounds as if he won't test the market, Burnett ranks fifth among all free agent starters on the list compiled by MLBTR's Tim Dierkes.
MAR. 27: A.J. Burnett is mulling whether to retire after the 2013 season, according to Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. However, if the 36-year-old decides to keep playing, he might only consider an offer from the Pirates for next season.
“I enjoy it here and I enjoy these guys,” Burnett said. “If I was to keep playing, I wouldn't want it to be anywhere else but Pittsburgh. My wife and I talk about it now and then. But it's something I've got to put on the back burner. I'm just going to concentrate on this season, one start at a time.”
While Burnett is fond of Pittsburgh, he says that he is not currently talking with the club about a new deal. Last year, Burnett posted a 3.51 ERA with 8.0 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 in 31 starts.
The right-hander is in the final year of a five-year, $82.5MM contract that he initally signed with the Yankees, so he won't be hurting for cash if he decides to walk away. For his career, Burnett owns a 4.05 ERA with 8.2 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9 across 14 seasons with the Marlins, Blue Jays, Yankees, and Bucs.
Jeff Todd contributed to this post.
The upcoming crop of free agent starters has been rife with injuries this season. While Matt Garza and Josh Johnson look to have returned from the DL healthy and very effective since our last look-in on injured hurlers, others haven't been so fortunate yet. Here's an update on some hurlers whose stock is suffering due to injuries...
- Roy Halladay told MLB.com's Todd Zolecki that he's feeling good and has been tossing from 60 feet for the past few days. The Phils are hopeful that Halladay, who underwent shoulder surgery in May, will pitch again this season, but that might not happen until late August, if it happens at all. The 36-year-old could end posting his lowest innings total since 2000 as a 23-year-old -- the year prior to his breakout as one of baseball's most dominant forces.
- MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez reports that Jason Vargas will undergo surgery to alleviate a blood clot in his left armpit. The procedure will shut down Vargas entirely for two weeks, and he might not be back on a Major League mound until the end of July. Vargas averages nearly 6 2/3 innings per start, so those five weeks could cost him between 40 and 50 innings of work. The injury couldn't come at a worse time, as Vargas is in the midst of his best season, and his durability is one of his greatest assets. Beyond that, the loss of one of their best starters this season could place the Halos in a deeper hole and push them toward selling at this year's deadline.
- Dan Haren hit the disabled list this weekend with a vague shoulder injury. Manager Davey Johnson told MLB.com's Bill Ladson the soreness has kept Haren from getting loose prior to his past couple of outings. Haren sounded irritated by his placement on the DL, according to Ladson, and noted any soreness he's feeling is nothing he hasn't pitched through before. Mark Zuckerman of CSN Washington tweets that Haren's MRI came back clean and he received a cortisone shot yesterday. Haren's ERA is a bloated 6.15, and he is tied for the Major League lead in homers allowed.
- As of this Sunday, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review noted that A.J. Burnett has yet to throw off a mound since being placed on the disabled list by the Pirates. Burnett is in the midst of one of the finest seasons of his career, but has no timetable for his return. His bout with free agency this offseason figured to be an intriguing one anyhow, as he's stated publicly that he would likely only return to the Pirates or retire. A serious DL stint could make him question a return even more.
The Yankees (69-47) own the best record in the AL, but the Mets (55-61) grabbed some headlines yesterday by acquiring Kelly Shoppach from the Red Sox for a player to be named later. Here's the latest out of the Big Apple...
- Ken Davidoff of The New York Post says that the Shoppach acquisition is an encouraging pickup because it shows the Mets are willing to take on money at midseason, something they haven't done in recent years.
- Mets GM Sandy Alderson isn't sure how much money he'll have to spend on his roster this offseason, reports Brian Costa of The Wall Street Journal. He said he also has yet to think about extending manager Terry Collins, who is under contract through next season.
- Davidoff reports that the Yankees preferred Derek Lowe to A.J. Burnett during the 2008-2009 offseason, but they had concerns about the sinkerballer's ground ball tendencies and their infield defense. New York signed Burnett back then, but traded him to the Pirates this offseason while adding Lowe this week.
Some links pertaining to baseball's two Central Divisions, which are currently led by the White Sox and Reds...
- The Reds aren't interested in Lyle Overbay, general manager Walt Jocketty told reporters including John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer (Twitter link). Jocketty mentions Overbay's defensive limitation and says his team likes Xavier Paul. Overbay was released by the D-backs earlier today.
- Indians GM Chris Antonetti is exploring the trade market for both Johnny Damon and Derek Lowe, tweets MLB.com's Jordan Bastian. Antonetti feels there's a chance that he can complete trades within their respective 10-day windows. Cleveland recently designated Damon and Lowe for assignment.
- Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes that Antonetti is happy with the job Manny Acta has done and expects him to be the Indians' manager in 2013. Antonetti did concede that the front office and coaching staff may have over-evaluated the roster's talent in Spring Training.
- Pirates GM Neal Huntington says he is actively monitoring the waiver wire and will make claims to improve his team or block others from improving theirs, writes Karen Price of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
- The Pirates haven't explored an extension with A.J. Burnett as of yet, Huntington told reporters including the Tribune-Review's Rob Biertempfel (Sulia link). Huntington says the team's focus is currently on making the playoffs.