The Winter Meetings, Day One: A.J. Burnett, Anyone?

Dec 8, 2008 at 9:23 am
My father called me just a little while ago, all excited. Apparently, Fox Sports is reporting that the Cardinals are going to major players for A.J. Burnett. He heard in on the radio on his way in to work; a cursory search of the Fox Web site leads us to Ken Rosenthal's story.

Rosenthal usually has his stuff straight; if he says it's being discussed, it most likely is. Whether or not it comes to pass, of course, is anybody's guess, but I trust Rosenthal to be accurate in his reporting. 

You want to know what I think about it, you say? Well, ask and ye shall receive.

I'm really kind of torn on this one. I was all excited the last time the Cardinals were interested in Burnett, back in 2005. At the time, though, there were serious questions about how durable he was, and whether or not giving him a five-year deal worth somewhere in the $50-55 million range was a good idea. Luckily, the intervening three years have completely allayed those fears. 

Wait. No they haven't. The hell? 

I will admit, when Burnett is healthy, he's as nasty a pitcher as there is in baseball. He's one of those few pitchers who you could legitimately say brings no hitter stuff to the mound every single time he goes out there. The downside, of course, is that he often doesn't take the mound at all. 

Burnett has only gone over 200 innings three times in his career, and has followed each of the first two such seasons with huge falloffs the next year. After throwing 204 innings in 2002 for the Florida Marlins, Burnett then had Tommy John surgery the next season, throwing a total of 23 innings.

He again broke the 200 inning plane in 2005, his last season with the Marlins, then threw only 135 in his first season in Toronto as he fought injury all year long in '06. He threw the most innings of his career this past season, with 221. I don't know about you, but I'm not willing to lay a whole lot of money down on him being on the mound all season in 2009. 

The bigger problem with signing Burnett, for me at least, is the draft pick issue. Burnett is a Type A free agent, meaning that the Cardinals would lose their first round draft pick in the 2009 draft if they were to sign him. I understand that adding Burnett makes the team significantly better next season, but what kind of talent are the Cards going to lose out on come June? There are plenty of talented players that are taken in rounds other than the first, of course, but both Colby Rasmus and Brett Wallace, the system's top two prospects, were first round picks. I would hate to miss out on a player of that ilk, regardless of who the player signed was. 

And lastly, of course, there's the issue of the contract. The Atlanta Braves have apparently already offered Burnett a contract worth about $60 million dollars over four years, with an option for a fifth. He wants a five-year deal, guaranteed. Ouch. At the end of that contract, Burnett will be 36 years old. Do you really think his ages 35 and 36 seasons are going to be worth in the $15-20 million range? 

Even supposing the Cardinals could somehow get him to agree to a four-year deal, that still would lock up four-fifths of a starting rotation through 2012. Kyle Lohse, Adam Wainwright, and Chris Carpenter are all signed through then; adding A.J. Burnett would give them four pitchers, three of whom are already in their 30s, locked in for the next four seasons. Hell, why bother drafting pitchers at all? You obviously don't have anywhere to put them if they turn out to be worth a shit. 

Signing Burnett would immediately make the Cardinals a serious contender in 2009, I think, and if Carpenter could somehow get healthy, they would have a terrifying rotation.

But the loss of the draft pick, the potential for Burnett to add to an already impressive innings total on the disabled list, and the complete lack of flexibility that having that many pitchers locked up for that long would afford the Cardinals scares me off. The Cards are just now starting to get out from under all of their expensive, long-term deals that crippled them the last couple of seasons; why are they so eager to go out and grab a bunch more? 

All that being said, I still can't help but dream of how good that rotation could possibly be. Sigh.

Still, given the choice, I don't think I would do it. You?