With the news today that A.J. Burnett will pitch in 2014 and will test the open market (as opposed to just going back to Pittsburgh), here are ten reasons - in no particular order - why an Orioles/Burnett marriage is a good fit for both parties.
10. Family Ties
Burnett and his family (wife and two sons) make their offseason home in Monkton. One of the reasons Burnett was reportedly considering retirement was to spend more time with his family. Playing for the Orioles would allow him to both continue playing and spend more time with his family.
9. Groundball Pitcher
Burnett has been a groundball pitcher throughout his career, but struggled in that regard in his final two seasons with the Yankees (2010 and 2011). However, he seemingly rediscovered his groundball stroke in the Steel City, posting GB/FB ratios of 1.34 and 1.35, respectively, over the past two seasons. While pitchers like Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, and Wei-Yin Chen have shown that a pitcher can survive playing in Camden Yards as fly ball pitchers, it certainly helps to be a groundball pitcher like Burnett when playing your home games in OPACY against AL East competition.
8. Minimal Commitment
Given that it took until now (late January) for Burnett to decide that he wishes to continue his playing career, it stands to reason that he will not want to sign more than a 1-year deal so he can reconsider his options again next winter. That will suit the Orioles just fine who are steadfast in their refusal to go more than three years on a starting pitcher and prefer one or two year deals whenever possible.
7. Innings Eater
The front office tabbed the ability to give the club innings as one of the more important attributes they were looking for in a starter this offseason. Over the past two seasons, Burnett has averaged 6.5 and 6.4 innings pitcher per start, respectively, and has averaged 6.3 over his career. Since the 2009 season – a span of five seasons – A.J. has only thrown less than 190 innings once when he threw 186 2/3’s innings in 2010. He certainly fits the O’s innings-eater requirement.
6. Money to Spend
Despite the moans and groans to the contrary, the Orioles have shown a willingness to spend this offseason. They reportedly offered Gavin Floyd a very generous package that would have earned him in excess of $20 m over two years if he reached certain incentives. They made a competitive offer for Bartolo Colon who ended up signing with the Mets for 2 years/$20 million instead. And despite the ugliness surrounding the Grant Balfour deal, the Orioles did offer 2 years/$15 m to him before the deal fell apart. All of these examples show a team that is willing to spend money on players they like, There is little reason to believe that the organization wouldn’t be able or willing to make Burnett a competitive offer if they really want him.
In addition to an innings-eater, the team earmarked “veteran” as a quality they would like in a starting pitcher acquisition. At the age of 37 and with 15 big league seasons under his belt, Burnett certainly qualifies as a veteran. Whether that is a quality that adds any real value is somewhat irrelevant. If the Orioles seek that quality, than that theoretically makes A.J. all the more of an attractive option.
4. Strikeout Pitcher
Last season, Burnett led the National League with 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. His 26.1% strikeout rate in 2013 was significantly above his career average of 21.7% but even if he regresses to his career numbers, he still a well-above league average strikeout pitcher. On a staff where the other four members are average strikeout pitchers at best, Burnett’s K’s would be a much welcomed addition.
The elephant in the room is that even if the Orioles are interested in Burnett, will he pass the team’s physical after two players have already failed to do so this winter. His track record would suggest a pitcher who is usually able to avoid injuries. Burnett has made 30 or more starts every season since 2008. The righty had Tommy John surgery way back in 2003. He had two DL stints in both 2006 and 2007 with a variety of ailments. However, he still made 20+ starts in each of those seasons and has been a picture of good health since.
2. Experience in the American League East
While some are weary of the fact that Burnett’s resurgence has occurred in the National League and that he performed poorly in his final two seasons in the Bronx that does not mean he cannot pitch in the AL East. Pitching in the AL East for the Blue Jays and Yankees from 2006 through 2011, Burnett pitched to a 4.39 ERA over 178 starts with a 2.31 SO/BB ratio and 8.7 H/9 IP. Those aren’t great numbers, but I’d still take them. It is also important to note that those numbers are dragged down big time by Burnett’s poor performances in 2010 and 2011. Those also happened to be two of the years (2011 even more so) where A.J.’s ability to induce ground balls temporarily left him. If he keeps the ball on the ground, he will get batters out – AL East or not.
1. The Orioles Are a Much Better Team with Him
I am of the belief that the O’s can contend with Kevin Gausman in the opening day rotation or with some second or third tier remaining free agent pitcher in that role. However, there is no denying that Burnett’s presence in the Birds’ rotation makes them a much strong team. He would somewhere in the top half of the rotation, theoretically pushing Bud Norris back to the 5th spot where his numbers play better. It also pushes Gausman to AAA and gives the Orioles are a very good sixth starter when the need inevitably arises. Above all else, Burnett makes the Orioles a better team. A relationship would be mutually beneficial, but it is hard to deny that the Orioles could use Burnett probably more than he could use them.