The news broke yesterday that free agent right handed pitcher A.J. Burnett will indeed pitch in 2014 after many thought he would elect to retire at age 37. Burnett has always been a guy the Baltimore Orioles have liked, and is high on their target list, but should the O's pursue him?
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Travis Sawchik was the first to report that Burnett is going to pitch this season and according to Sawchik, Burnett is willing to pitch for a team other than the Pittsburgh Pirates and will test the open market.
Burnett is a very familiar name here in Baltimore from the times the Orioles had to face him while he was pitching with the Yankees and Blue Jays, which is one of the bigger draws of Burnett is the fact that he has pitched six seasons in the AL East throughout his career and knows what it is all about.
He carries with him a 3.99 career ERA with a record of 147-132 over the course of 15 big league seasons and has shown a great deal of consistency and durability. Burnett has won at least 10 games in each of the last nine seasons and has made at least 25 starts in eight of those nine seasons, which includes seven seasons with at least 30 starts. Innings? He piles them up too as he has worked at least 186 innings in seven of the past nine seasons. If there is one thing the Orioles need outside of a legit number one starter, it is a quality, veteran arm who can eat some innings to help save the bullpen and Burnett has the track record to fit that bill.
When a fan, or baseball expert thinks of the perfect kind of pitcher for Camden Yards it almost always comes out the same way; the perfect fit would be a ground ball pitcher who can also strike people out. Well, look no further than Burnett as he ranked second in ground ball rate and fourth in strikeout rate last season among all qualifiers. In addition, he has allowed less than one home run (0.9) per nine innings pitched and has struck out 8.3 batters per nine innings pitched over the course of his 15 year career.
Outside of the numbers on the field, signing Burnett makes sense on some other levels as well. He lives in Monkton, MD, which would make Baltimore an attractive destination for him, he is not looking for a long term deal and he does not cost a first round draft pick if you sign him. Let's face it, he seems to be the perfect match.
There are a few downsides to Burnett however, as he has benefited from pitching in the National League a bit as his career ERA of 3.63 over his career in the NL is much lower than the 4.39 career ERA he has in six AL seasons. To give him credit, all six of those seasons came in the AL East where it is much tougher to pitch, but the discrepancy is worth noting. In addition, he is 37 years old, so it is unclear how much he has left in the tank, but if last season's performance is any indication, 10-11, 3.30 ERA, 30 starts and 191 innings pitched, then he still has some quality stuff. Lastly, Burnett is a bit of a hot head on the mound, from yelling at teammates for being out of position, to yelling at certain hitters to sit down after a strikeout, but the Orioles could honestly use someone like that and was one of the bigger draws to closer Grant Balfour before that deal fell through.
In the end, Burnett would be a great signing by the Orioles because of his durability, his experience in the AL East, and the fact that he will not require a long term deal or a draft pick compensation. The underlying question here is whether the Orioles are willing to pay whatever the asking price is for him, and if he would want to come to Baltimore, especially after the Orioles have had two free agent deals fall through due to physicals.
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