After a lengthy period in which he considered retirement, A.J. Burnett has officially stated his desire to pitch in 2014 and the market is already heating up for the veteran hurler. With Burnett not hanging up the spikes just yet, he’ll compete with Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez as one of the best available remaining arms on the free agent market. Of the two, as well as Bronson Arroyo, he represents the commodity with the most intrigue for contending teams.
Initially, it was expected that Burnett would return to the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he basically revived his career after a rough go in the American League East. However, while the Bucs are likely in the running in some form or fashion, there figure to be multiple teams vying for the services of the veteran starter. Those teams could come out of the woodwork in both the AL and the National League.
The last two years have represented something of a revival for Burnett after a less-than-stellar tenure with the Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Yankees, the latter of which featured an ERA of at least five in his last two years with the team. He went for a 3.51 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in 2012 before coming back even stronger for a contending Pirates club in 2013.
The 2013 season would have meant that Burnett would have gone out on a high note had he retired, as he posted some very good numbers as a solid mid-rotation starter for the Cinderella Pittsburgh squad. His strikeout numbers per nine innings were as high as they’ve been in his career, all the way up at 9.85. His 1.21 WHIP was his best mark since his 1.19 with the Jays in 2007.
As far as what team A.J. Burnett might end up with, that is up for some debate. The Baltimore Orioles have been connected to him all offseason and now that it’s official that he plans on returning, they could be ready to make a serious run at him. The Philadelphia Phillies are another team that would make a ton of sense, as they could use a steady option in the middle of their rotation. The Tampa Bay Rays are also rumored to have interest. Don’t sleep on him returning to Pittsburgh either.
Burnett sparks a bit more intrigue on a starting pitching market that has a few notable names remaining. He and Arroyo represent the steady veteran options, while teams looking for a larger impact may look to the likes of Jimenez and Santana.