It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
No, we’re not talking about the upcoming holiday season, but rather the Orioles’ annual interest in veteran pitcher A.J. Burnett. Yahoo Sports reported Thursday from the general managers’ meetings in Arizona that Baltimore has offered the right-hander a contract, but the sides are not close. Several conflicting reports have since said the Orioles haven’t offered Burnett a deal.
(Editor’s note: The Pittsburgh Pirates agreed to a one-year deal with Burnett on Friday afternoon.)
The Monkton resident’s name has regularly come up in recent years, but it’s unclear why the Orioles would still be interested in a soon-to-be 38-year-old pitcher who posted a 4.59 ERA with Philadelphia last season. His performance more closely resembled that of Ubaldo Jimenez than the rest of the Baltimore rotation in 2014 as Burnett’s 4.0 walks per nine innings rate was his worst since 2009. His 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings would have some appeal, but a 1.409 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) wouldn’t figure to improve shifting back to the American League for his 17th major league season.
It makes sense for executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette to seek starting pitching depth as it’d be a stretch to project five starters each posting an ERA below 4.00 for the second straight year, but Burnett would be pricey and doesn’t represent a clear upgrade over any starter the Orioles currently have. With the Orioles already having six projected starters including the disappointing Jimenez and his albatross contract, adding Burnett would only make sense if they were packaging someone like Miguel Gonzalez or Bud Norris in a trade for a piece to significantly improve another area of the club.
Burnett declined a $12.75 million option to remain with the Phillies and if he’s looking for anything even approaching that, the Orioles shouldn’t be wasting time considering him, let alone making an offer.
* Speaking of Jimenez, the reports of the Orioles being open to trading the right-hander are a nice thought, but who is willingly inheriting the remaining three years of a $50 million contract to take him off the club’s hands?
I feel confident in predicting Jimenez will improve on his 4.81 ERA and horrendous 5.5 walks per nine innings rate from 2014, but the Orioles aren’t finding a suitor without paying a sizable portion of the roughly $39 million he’s still owed or taking on an equally-terrible contract of another player.
* The Orioles continue working on a contract extension with right fielder Nick Markakis with Yahoo Sports reporting the sides are closing in on a four-year deal worth $10 million to $12 million per season that could be done soon.
I recently examined how far the Orioles should go to keep the longtime right fielder and the reported price per season isn’t shocking, but offering four years is a lot for a player who’s shown marked decline in power and range over the last three to four seasons. Kudos to Duquette and the organization should they finish a deal to keep a lifelong Oriole whose value extends beyond the statistics, but the final year or two on a contract of that nature is likely to be cringe-worthy come 2017 and 2018.
* It will be interesting to see what impact the Victor Martinez extension has on free-agent slugger Nelson Cruz.
The soon-to-be 36-year-old Martinez agreed to a four-year, $68 million to remain with the Tigers while the 34-year-old Cruz reportedly wants a five-year deal from potential free-agent suitors. Martinez had the superior year with a .335 average and a league-leading .974 on-base plus slugging percentage and is a better overall hitter, but his re-signing makes Cruz the most attractive designated hitter remaining on the market.
To this point, the Orioles are unwilling to go beyond three years to keep Cruz, who led the majors with 40 home runs, so his demands will need to come down to remain in Baltimore unless there is a change of heart.
* The Orioles have repeatedly shot down a rumor that they’ve offered free agent Billy Butler a three-year, $30 million contract, which is good news.
Not only is the right-handed DH coming off a poor season in which he posted a .702 OPS, but he cannot play defense, which wouldn’t be appealing as manager Buck Showalter likes flexibility with the DH spot to provide some rest to his veteran position players. You’d gladly live with a potent bat from a guy like Martinez in that permanent role, but Butler’s slugging percentage has dropped from .510 in 2012 to .412 in 2013 to a career-low .379 this season.
On top of the declining numbers, the 28-year-old Butler has a reputation for being a malcontent, which makes him even less appealing to a club like the Orioles with such a positive clubhouse culture.
* Reports indicate left-handed reliever Andrew Miller is seeking a lucrative four-year deal.
“There’s an awful lot of interest in him, I’m hearing, down here,” Duquette said on MLB Network Wednesday. “He likes Baltimore, too. We heard from his family. His wife liked it there. She was very comfortable, so we’re going to try on that one as well.”
It remains highly unlikely that the tall southpaw returns to the Orioles.