Could .AJ B.urnett be a Brave in 2014 (Photo Courtesy Scott Rovak/ USA Today)

Will The Braves Land A.J. Burnett


The news that A.J. Burnett would pitch in 2014 has the rumor mill in full throat. Most are saying Baltimore is his perfect fit but could Atlanta sneak in and sign him instead?

 Why would we want  A.J. Burnett?

Prior to the 2009 season Braves GM offered A.J. a long term high dollar contract, almost the same contract he ended up signing with the Yankees. At that time I was vocally against signing him for that kind of money and that length of time.  He was essentially a 500 pitcher with a 1.284 WHIP, a 3.84 ERA and not worth what at the time was ACE impact arm money. I was right. As a Yankee he put up a 4.79 ERA and a 1.447 WHIP. The Yankees traded (gave) him to Pittsburgh for two unknown prospects and sent along $20M of the $31M he was still owed on his contract.  In Pittsburgh however Burnett became a different pitcher.

The Pirates under Clint Hurdle emphasized ground ball pitching and pitching coach Ray Searage  convinced Burnett to buy into it.  Suddenly he was a completely different pitcher. As Jeff Sullivan wrote over at Fangraphs today:

Burnett seemed to turn his career around when he landed with the Pirates a couple seasons ago. Over that span, he made 61 starts. Among starters, he ranked in the top tenth in WAR. He was also in the top tenth in adjusted FIP and xFIP, and only three other starters generated a higher groundball rate. If ace pitchers get strikeouts while limiting walks and dingers, Burnett has recently done two of the three, and it’s not like his walks have been out of control. Around his Pirates numbers, you find the names of other really good pitchers.

As a Pirate Burnett produced his lowest WHIP since 2007 (1.228) and turned himself into a groundball specialist. In 2012 his 56.9% GB rate was fourth in MLB just ahead of Tim Hudson’s 55.5%. Just to prove it wasn’t a fluke he posted a 56.5% rate in 2013 good enough for second in MLB.  He remains a strikeout pitcher as well posting a 9.85 K/9, making him fourth in MLB. Think of it this way, he’s Huddy with a bigger arm or Cliff Lee with less control. He took the ball every fifth day last year and since 2008 has made 30 or more starts every year averaging 6 1/3 innings per start. That’s a significantly different pitcher that the one that pitched in Toronto and New York.  He was also a mentor to the young Pirate staff. To a man they credited him with improving their game and helping them settle into their role. That too is a different A.J. from the emotional, almost petulant pitcher we saw in Florida and Toronto.  That’s why we would want him now.

Would AJ come to the ATL?

Let’s check off things that might influence the 37 year old Burnett’s decision.  Matches (my opinion of course) in bold.

  1. Burnett lives near Baltimore and has said that he wants to be near his family, he’s had some family issues that make that need even higher on the list. That would limit his choices to east coast;  Orioles, Nationals, Phillies, Mets Braves and a return to the Pirates.
  2. Like most players he wants a chance to win. That clears the field a bit; Pirates, Nationals, Orioles Braves.
  3. He’d prefer a pitcher’s ballpark or at least one that didn’t favor hitters a lot. Okay let’s look at park factors.
RUNS HR H 2B 3B BB
PNC Park (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) .907 0.679 .989 .858 0.688 .881
Turner Field (Atlanta, Georgia) .956 0.925 .987 .924 1.25 .945
Nationals Park (Washington, D.C.) 1.013 0.804 1.089 1.051 0.577 .966
Oriole Park at Camden Yards (Baltimore, Maryland) 1.057 1.275 .988 .862 0.636 1.011
Park Factor compares the rate of stats at home vs. the rate of stats on the road. A rate higher than 1.000 favors the hitter. Below 1.000 favors the pitcher. (from ESPN.com)

4.   He’ll want a good defense behind him. Braves, Nationals, Orioles, Pirates

Wren always get his man. . . eventually

One thing you have to say about Frank Wren, he’s determined. Those of you who’ve paid attention since he took over will know that once he “likes a player a lot” he never stops trying to acquire him. He ignores records and trends when he sees something in a player that he likes and given the chance he signs him. Last year it was B.J. Upton but prior to that he tracked and signed Joe Mather, Juan Francisco and Rodrigo Lopez. . .okay not great examples of success but they are all players he openly admired and tried to sign /for a long time. So is Burnett. On top of that if this were a fishing story, AJ is the “one that got away.” I think that still irks Wren a little and might tempt him to try again.

What would it take?

Burnett almost retired this year so a long term deal isn’t likely on his radar. If Wren decides to go after him something like two years $19M would – barring someone offering stupid money – probably do it. That’s not excessive based on his recent history and today’s market.  The Braves should still have that money available within their payroll target.

That’s A Wrap

When I heard that Burnett was going to pitch, I wondered how that would change the Pirates off season. Then I heard he was open to pitching elsewhere and immediately envisioned the GM grabbing frantically for his phone. That isn’t a shot at our GM just an opinion based on what he’s done since taking over. Then I though I hope he doesn’t followed by – let me check myself – then a Hmmm I should reconsider that opinion.  Burnett is not an Ace impact arm, he walks too many and can have bouts of wildness. However,  he does offer all of things our rotation lost when Hudson went to the Giants plus 200 strikeouts and 200 or so innings. His groundball rate would change the look of the rotation; currently Kris Medlen’s 45.3% leads  with Julio Teheran at 38.6% and Mike Minor at 35%. Alex wood had a 49.1% rate but didn’t throw enough innings to be on the qualified list. It would also mean  lots of fun for Andrelton Simmons at shortstop and Freddie Freeman at first and that can’t be bad. The maturity he showed with the young Pirate staff would benefit Teheran and Woody as well as taking the spotlight off of Brandon Beachy in his first year back after TJ surgery. As much as I was against the original bid to sign him, I’d be happy to see him wearing a Tomahawk next year.

Tags: Atlanta Braves FanSided

  • Bryant Douglass

    I hope not. We need to keep our focus on youthful talent!

    • fireboss

      If you’d have been okay with Huddy Burnett shouldn’t be any different. more ground balls, more innings, more strikeouts all of which are missing so far unless you believe Floyd and Garcia can do it. Hale and Woody are fine but Woody may or may not repeat last year’s success and as much as I like Hale he’s not as good as Burnett.

  • http://tomahawktake.com/ carpengui

    Honestly? I don’t even think Frank will even put in a courtesy call. And no – the budget is _not_ there…even if they were to win all arbitration cases, it would be $92m out of a $100m budget. Lose them all and they’re at $96m.

    • Brandon_Woodworth

      110% agree. We’re fighting over $300k with an existing player. No room in the budget, as much as I’d like him.

      • http://tomahawktake.com/ carpengui

        If we were in December – early December – and this opportunity presented itself, then I’d say “maybe.” But the Innings Eater candidates for 2014 have already been signed: Floyd and Garcia. Obviously, this team isn’t above the idea of taking a ‘flyer’ on somebody – but this year it was those two guys.

        • fireboss

          Garcia isn’t guaranteed anything and will opt out if he’s not on the 25 man by 25 March. an AAV of 9.5 could be done. They don’t die at 100M just need their heart meds.

  • Lee Trocinski

    You say Burnett has been better than Huddy the last couple years, yet A.J. is going to sign for $4M less? I think it will be a 2-year deal, but it will be nearing $30M.

    • fireboss

      If it was an all out bidding war that’s true but he’s already turned down the west coast teams (Yanks had him traded to the Angel and he said no, that’s how he ended up in Pittsburgh) if the teams he’d sign with (close to home in Maryland and preferably NL) none are going to give him that. If he does decide to go West then the Angel might go that big but the Rangers won’t. He’ll get less in AAV than Garza’s 12.25

      • Lee Trocinski

        I know the Orioles aren’t his best fit, but they’ll probably make a strong move for him. Also, the Pirates have some money left to spend and not much depth in the rotation. Add in a couple dark horses like Cleveland and Cincinnati, and suddenly there’s plenty of a market to drive up his price.

        • fireboss

          Actually the Orioles are his perfect fit, 25 minutes from his home looking for a short term quality arm to go with their kids and they have the money they didn’t spend on Balfour and more to offer; with Burnett they could well challenge in the east too. They won’t give him that much money though. Angelos is a horrible owner as Duquette and Showalter are finding out.
          The Indians are an option but as I understand it he prefers NL. He’d make them a lot stronger and Francona might well be enough to swing him there. I don’t know if they have the payroll room left but I’d sign him before bringing back Jimenez if I had the option
          Cincinnati is up against their payroll limit. They are at 94M already with just 17 players and haven’t signed Homer Bailey yet. Even if the other 7 are minimum wage players that plus Baily is !00M. I don;t think they’re in.
          Detroit could be an interesting landing spot but they lack payroll room too.

          I really don’t think the Braves will even try. Dave O’Brien tweeted that he didn’t think it would happen but you have to admit the possibility is intriguing

  • rick staley

    AJ would be fine by me until Hale, Hirsch, Martin, Sims, & company are ready to join the rotation. Wood goes to pen to assist Avilan & manage IP safely considering he’s already been under the knife once in his young career. There’s no guarantee Jonny V. returns to his prior form before injuring himself in 2012. Like Alex coming out of pen better than as a SP anyways.

    How does Frank orchestrate such an offer when $$$ are tight??? The only way I could see him coming up with the cash without the approval of Terry Mac & Liberty to increase budget in 2014 is by trading Kimbrel & saving $ 9 million roughly this season (I don’t see Wren & co. winning this arb-case). Now, that just wouldn’t settle well with me. If he did something crazy as such, would Avilan , J.R. Graham, or Buchter be the closer? Don’t think Walden or Carpenter could handle it myself.

    • fireboss

      Even losing all of the arb cases they come in at about 96 according to Alan’s estimates below. They’ve said that payroll would be around 100M and another 9.5 would be 105 or so. Garcia is on a minor league deal and has an opt out if he doesn’t make the 40 man. if AJ is in he isn’t so there’s 1.25M making it 104. They could also be creative with the contract structure. Lets say they offered 19M total value. That could be a $5M signing bonus then year one at 6M and year two at 8M. Bonus money doesn’t count against payroll. It still puts them at 102 but again no one dies at 100M it’s a general target.
      Kimbrel will be traded before next year. They simply won’t pay a closer 9M a year for more than a year and win or lose his salary next year will be more than that. I wouldn’t let Walden near the 9th inning, he lost his closing job in LA because he wasn’t dependable. I do trust Carpenter more than you and really have no problem giving him a shot there. We do have closer candidates in waiting however. Shea Simmons is the one everyone is talking about but J.R. Graham is closer and has the stuff to do the job. His size makes a long career as a starter unlikely, he’s more a Billy Wagner than Jose Fernandez size. I think actually Woody would be fine in that job. He projects as a bullpen guy anyway.
      Having said all of that DOB tweeted that the Braves had no interest in Burnett so this is all moot. . . or not. As with all baseball signings teams do strange things

      • rick staley

        Really think that AJ’s contract will at least be in the $12-15 per yr. range. If Huddy can get $23/2 yrs., then AJ should be able to get $25/2 yr. deal or $12 mil./1 yr. w/team option @$13 mil. for 2015 & a $1-2 mil. buyout.

        This would guarantee him for 1 yr.@ $13-14 mil. He wouldn’t have to worry about a long commitment nor would the Bravos be hindering any other young talent on the farm from joining rotation in 2015 & beyond.

        Maybe one of those deferred deals like Hrabosky signed where you can pay him 60% ($9 mil.) in 2014 & $500 K w/o interest over next 10 yrs. which would equal $14 million total for 2014 service???

        • http://tomahawktake.com/ carpengui

          Agree: $12-15m… and I’m leaning toward the top end… sounds about right.

          But given that, can you imagine the questions for Wren? “So how come you weren’t willing to spend less to keep Hudson?”

          • fireboss

            Burnett’s price is limited by his market. He wants east coast close to home. That takes a lot of the big money out of the bidding. The Nationals don’t really have a use for him although that hasn’t sopped them in the past I suspect they aren’t players.
            The Phillies are already have a big payroll on an old team. Unless they suddenly decide not to be cheap ala Marlon Byrd I dont; see what they gain with Burnett. Of course Amaro has does silly stuff before.
            The competition is likely the Orioles and Indians neither or which is going to give him 15M a year in a multiyear deal. I’ve seen it suggested that the Pirates give him a split deal like the one I mentioned before 7M this year and 10M deferred on a one year contract. I suppose that could happen but the Pirates sounded a little upset they weren’t given a heads up by Burnett before the announcement.
            Whoever signs him will be ask for a no trade or limited trade clause so he doesn’t get sent 3000 miles from home. The Braves haven’t typically done those but I see no problem with an east coast only trade clause of some kind. Nationals won’t do it nor I suspect will the Phillies or Orioles.

            If he decides to leave the east coast – something he’s strongly resisted in the past – then the big money from Texas and LA could be a player but that’s really a long shot. He turned a move to the Angels down when he was a yankee because of his family issues and those haven’t changed.

      • http://tomahawktake.com/ carpengui

        For the record, I do not yet include Garcia’s deal in that $92-96m projection… mostly because we don’t know if even $1 of it will ever be spent. If _so_, then it’s somewhere between $1.25m and $2.5m _minus_ the 500K slot I do have currently assigned on the roster.

        SO: Garcia’s impact on the payroll would be either $0, $750K, or $2m – depending on the degree of his presence/absence.

  • http://tomahawktake.com/ carpengui

    My fear – also raised by MLBTR last night – is Philadelphia. That’s the perfect fit.

    • fireboss

      The Phillies are so close to blowing the luxury tax cap and so old as a team they won’t go big on Burnett unless they plan to trade Lee.