In a surprising twist certain to have a significant impact on the pitching market …
A source tells Travis Sawchik that, despite prior indications to the contrary, 37-year-old righty A.J. Burnett is not going to retire. More importantly, he’s not going to limit his team search to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
After falling off in New York, Burnett had something of a renaissance in Pittsburgh over the last two seasons, posting FIPs of 3.52 and 2.80(!) in 2012 and 2013, respectively. He was worth 7 WAR over that span. He’s getting older, but there’s reason to believe he could still be very good in 2014.
So, assuming Sawchik’s report is accurate …
The first level Cubs-related stuff: do I see the Cubs going after Burnett?
Well, given that he’s likely to be a short-term, quality option on the market (not tied to draft pick compensation), I could see the Cubs having interest as a flippable asset. But, given that he’s likely to be a short-term, quality option on the market, I see him having many more competitive options out there. I suppose it depends on what Burnett is looking for: an opportunity to win (guys on the verge of retirement tend to favor such things) or a lot of money (maybe the Cubs could outbid the market on a short-term deal?). The Cubs could kinda-sorta give Burnett the competitive thing, you know, by flipping him to a contender in July. But, again, he might not really be looking for that.
The second level Cubs-related stuff: what does Burnett do to the market for free agents?
Since the Cubs are looking to pick up at least one more starting pitcher, preferably on the cheap, a quality option like Burnett can only help. Purely an example: maybe a suitor for Jason Hammel prefers Burnett, gets him, and then Hammel has to turn to the Cubs on their preferred deal. Hell, maybe Burnett’s presence softens the already soft market for guys like Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, allowing the Cubs to swoop in for a song. I doubt that latter one, but it’s a consideration.
The third level Cubs-related stuff: what does Burnett do to the market for Jeff Samardzija?
Assuming the Cubs do try and shop Samardzija before the season starts: There’s obviously a slight negative impact here, given that teams needing pitching now have one more free agent option to pursue before giving up prospects for a guy like Samardzija. On the plus side, Samardzija is likely to be far more desirable, all things equal, than Burnett. On the down side, Burnett could head back to the Pirates or head off to the Orioles (who’ve been connected to him in the past), definitively taking them out of the market on Samardzija.
All in all, it’ll take a little time for the impact of this decision to fully be felt. It depends on which teams are interested in Burnett, and which teams he’d legitimately consider pitching for in 2014.