The MLB free agent list got a pretty significant addition on Tuesday evening when Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review tweeted that A.J. Burnett would return to pitch in 2014. The thought process all along was that if Burnett did decide to pitch next season he would only return to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Sawchik reports, however, that Burnett is now willing to test the open market. There are a few teams that have already expressed interest in the veteran’s services.
Burnett, 37, was great in 2013. He had a 3.30 ERA and a 2.80 FIP in 191 innings with the Pirates while leading the National League in K/9 (9.85) and in ground ball percentage (56.5 percent). Keeping the ball on the ground did wonders for Burnett last season, including giving up a career-low 0.52 HR/9.
To this point, we have already heard that — along with the Pirates — the Baltimore Orioles and Philadelphia Phillies have been in contact with Burnett’s agent, Darek Braunecker. Late Tuesday night, however, a new team apparently entered the mix. According to Richard Durrett of ESPN Dallas, the Texas Rangers “have some interest” in signing Burnett.
The Rangers’ rotation is already solid, especially their first two starters. Yu Darvish and Derek Holland make up the front of the team’s rotation with Martin Perez, Alexi Ogando and Matt Harrison filling out the rest. Adding Burnett could allow the Rangers to trade a starter or possibly move a starter to the bullpen. Ogando, in particular, has some experience coming out of the bullpen in recent seasons.
The question now becomes what Burnett is truly worth on the open market. John Perrotto of USA Today and the Beaver County Times has heard that the Pirates low-balled Burnett with a cheap $8.5 million offer for one year. The Pirates declined to give Burnett the $14.1 million qualifying offer, so they may not be interested in offering more than the $8.5 million at this point. For some teams, offering Burnett a one-year, $20 million contract wouldn’t be a bad idea. One-year deals are generally fairly safe so overpaying a few extra million is fine.
Ultimately, Burnett will probably end up signing a one-year deal with a value of somewhere between $16-$20 million. The Pirates are probably regretting not giving Burnett the qualifying offer now, because if he signs elsewhere they don’t get the draft pick that comes with losing a free agent who declined his qualifying offer.