Thursday, 30 January 2014

Burnett, and Making Sense

So AJ Burnett is apparently open to pitching in a city other than Pittsburgh, which conflicts with news from earlier this offseason, where it was apparently Pittsburgh or retire.  I think Burnett automatically becomes the best option on the free agent market by virtue of this announcement.

For starters, Burnett wasn't offered a qualifying offer by the Pirates.  Whether that's because they thought he was either returning or retiring, or whether they just didn't think he was worth it, I really can't answer.  Don't know Neil Huntington.  The point remains, though, that Burnett isn't going to cost a draft pick to whichever team signs him.  Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana don't offer the same convenience.

Burnett is coming off a pretty excellent season with Pittsburgh-- a FIP/xFIP of 2.80/2.92, better than a strikeout per inning, and a pretty nice groundball rate of 56%.  Those would all work spectacularly in Toronto.

Burnett, somewhat unfairly, has gotten a bit of a bad reputation over his career as being fragile or injury-prone.  While that may have been true years ago, he's made 35, 33, 33, 33, 31 and 30 starts in the last six seasons, tallying at least 186 innings each year.

Yeah, a lot of those starts in his Yankee days were really bad, but hey.  Career revival.  And it's not like a Burnett signing going sour would ruin the franchise for years-- he's probably only signing a 1-year deal and then retiring, given that those were his two choices before opening his list of teams up.  If he sucks, who cares, he's a free agent at the end of the year.

And he probably wouldn't suck.  Pittsburgh isn't exactly a pitcher's paradise, and the NL Central has been fucking good these last two years.  He responded by putting up 7 fWAR* over that period, including a 4 WAR season last year.

*- Baseball reference has his 2012 being worth 2.2 and his 2013 worth 1.7 WAR.

It's not like it would be all that hard of a sell either-- he already signed here once before.  He knows the city, knows the stadium, probably knows a lot of the players and personnel.  Often times, we hear about guys who don't want to come here, but then get here and really enjoy it-- Burnett already knows what to expect.  No need to exaggerate or try and sell him on the city.  That at least takes part of the trouble out of attracting him here.

I think the biggest thing about this, though, is the fact that there's no clear-cut best option as far as Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana go.  Burnett has been better than both of these guys in each of the last two years, won't cost a draft pick, and will cost fewer years.  It's theory time:

What if we live in three separate but parallel universes, where the Jays sign one of each guy in one of those universes.  Let's also assume that in each universe, the pitcher that signs in Toronto performs horribly (and let's face it now, this is a real possibility), returning to his 2011 (Burnett) or 2012 (Santana/Jimenez) form.  If Burnett is in fact commanding 1-year, he just leaves at the end of it all and doesn't come back.  If Santana or Jimenez suck, they're either sticking around for at least two more years, or getting traded for pennies on the dollar.

The other options out there aren't as impressive either-- Bronson Arroyo would likely get pummeled in this league, division and stadium.  Jeff Samardzija is going to cost a lot.  Paul Maholm isn't all that impressive.  It goes on.

But Burnett.  My sweet, sweet Burnett.  One year, even at a higher per-season price than Jimenez or Santana, and then it's over.  Money is off the books, and there's room for another, better free agent.  A quick glimpse at the projected 2015 free agent class of starting pitchers, in no particular order:

Homer Bailey
Max Scherzer
Jon Lester
Justin Masterson
James Shields
Johnny Cueto
Brett Anderson
Dan Haren
Yovani Gallardo
Jake Peavy
Brandon McCarthy

Now, obviously not all of those guys are making it to free agency.  Some will sign extensions, others have options that may be exercised.  Some may not be worth pursuing in a year, but others that I didn't list may become worth pursuing.  Trade candidates can pop up from out of nowhere over the next year.

If they're even necessary.  Remember Marcus Stroman?  Aaron Sanchez?  Sean Nolin?  Those guys are in the system already, are sooooo cheap, and apparently need more time.  How does a year sound?

This is no longer a time for upside.  That's there already-- Brandon Morrow pretty much lost a season last year, and has all that untapped potential.  We don't need more potential.  We need sure things.  Dickey and Buehrle are going to throw 200 innings and be OK or so.  Burnett tossing another 200 innings would be outrageous to go along with that.

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