For the past few months following the Doug Fister acquisition, fans and writers alike have seen the Washington Nationals‘ rotation as pretty much set. However, that may change within the next week or so, as the team may have interest in A.J. Burnett. This is not the first time Burnett has been linked the Nationals; they have pursued him at least one other time, as Burnett seems to favor pitching close to his home, with the Baltimore Orioles being a potential suitor earlier this winter, though with all their problems with player physicals, it would be surprising anyone else signs there.
Burnett has been very strong for the Pittsburgh Pirates following his trade there from the New York Yankees after some downright horrific years there. Burnett has gone 26-21 with a 3.41 ERA in his two years in Pittsburgh, and had been rumored to be weighing retirement or a return to only the Pirates earlier this winter, but it seems his scope has widened to multiple teams. Burnett has shown he has a little bit left in the tank, however, if the Nationals were to acquire him, it could be either a very good signing, or it could be Dan Haren part two.
Think about this — before Burnett was traded from the Yankees, he was coming off a 34-35, 4.79 ERA in three years with the Yankees. Even his best year in the Bronx was a 13-9, 4.04 ERA, which is not nearly what the Yankees were looking for when they signed him to a huge deal. Burnett is, at this point in his career, nothing more than a National League pitcher, and may have been one all along, as his National League ERA, 3.63, is considerably lower than his American League ERA, which is 4.39. Burnett would plug in as the Nationls’ fifth starter if signed, and we know the history the team has had recently with veteran additions to round out their rotation.
The aforementioned Haren was ballyhooed as a genius signing by the Nationals, and was expected to be one of the best fourth starters in baseball. We all know how that went, as Haren was nothing short of abysmal and a complete and utter bust in Washington. Burnett could be somewhat similar, as his production thoroughly increased when he was dealt to the National League, but at the age of 37, that kind of unpredictability is something the Nationals could do without, especially with the question mark that Ross Detwiler has become. They have younger options in Detwiler, Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan, who are all younger and possess considerably more upside.
Burnett could be a very solid signing for the Nationals. He would allow the Nationals to ease Detwiler back into pitching and combat any complications from back surgery, and could even turn into a prospect or two at the trade deadline, paving the way for a lat return to the rotation for Detwiler, Roark or Jordan. Unfortunately, there is also a chance it could become Haren part two, and coming off of an 86 win campaign marred by disappointment, that would be the absolute last thing the Nationals need.