AJ Burnett has been on record all offseason that while he would like to pitch one more season he is also fine with retirement. AJ Burnett has reached the stage in his career, having made over $120 million, that it isn’t only about the money for him and as he is only looking for a one year deal he will pick where he finishes his career. There are two big factors for AJ Burnett. The first is that he is going to want a chance to win as he pitched the Pirates to the playoffs last season and wouldn’t want to finish out his career on a team with little to no chance to make it back there. The second is AJ Burnett’s wife is from Maryland and that is where Burnett now makes his home and if he can’t finish his career close to home he will retire.
Burnett’s first choice would be to go back to the Pirates but they didn’t offer him the $14 million qualifying offer because they were afraid he would accept. It is likely that the Pirates lack the money to sign Burnett, but the Nationals have made it a habit to sign a starting pitcher to a one year $13-15 million contract late in the off-season. In 2012 they did it with Edwin Jackson and in 2013, Dan Haren. Signing with the Nationals gives Burnett the ability to finish his career with a team with a good chance to win and pitch close to home. The only real competition the Nationals would have for Burnett’s services are the Orioles and their desperation for pitching wouldn’t mean that Burnett could pass the physical.
The reason the Nationals would want to sign Burnett is that they’ve shown an interest in strengthening the bullpen as they were rumored to be in on Grant Balfour before he signed with the Rays and Eric O’Flaherty before he signed with the A’s. Why Burnett doesn’t directly strengthen the bullpen he does allow the Nationals to move the pitchers competing for the final rotation spot to the battle for the final two bullpen spots with the most likely scenario being Detwiler and Ohlendorf taking those roles due to lack of minor league options.
This would mean that both Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark would start the season in AAA and provide depth for the Nationals rotation. AJ Burnett is a career 3.99 ERA pitcher with a 3.7 BB/9 and 8.3 K/9. Burnett is mainly a fastball/change-up pitcher having rediscovered himself in Pittsburgh posting a 3.51 and 3.30 ERA in his two seasons there and led the league with a 9.8 K/9 in 2013. Burnett has been a much better pitcher in the NL than the AL over his career with a 3.63 ERA over nine seasons in the NL and 4.39 ERA over six seasons in the AL.
Mike Rizzo has shown a late off-season willingness to strengthen a strength over the last two seasons and AJ Burnett is the remaining free agent that makes the most sense for the Nationals. The Nationals by being close to Burnett’s family and having a chance to win in 2014 make them a good fit for him as well. With only two arbitration cases left undecided the Nationals are estimated to have a $130 million payroll for the 2014 season and $140 million was reported as the budget earlier in the off-season. That means the Nationals have the money, the willingness, and the need to sign Burnett to a one year $10-12 million deal, and by doing so they would strengthen both the starting rotation and the bullpen making the best part of the team even better and giving themselves the best chance as possible to win in 2014.