2014 MLB Free Agent Profile: A.J. Burnett

Justin K. Aller

Could A.J. Burnett bolster the New York Mets' rotation in 2014?

A.J. Burnett was originally drafted by the New York Mets in the eighth round of the 1998 MLB draft, but was traded to the Marlins in the deal that brought Al Leiter to Flushing. Burnett quickly broke out as a prospect in the Marlins’ system, leading Baseball America to rank him as the 21st best prospect in baseball after 1998 and 20th best after 1999. He pitched partial seasons from 1999-2001, but threw 204⅓ innings with a 3.30 ERA in in 2002. In 2003, he was shut down after having Tommy John surgery, but he recovered and pitched well in 2004 and 2005.

Burnett reached free agency after 2005 and signed a five-year, $55 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. After the 2008 season, he opted out and signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract with the Yankees. Things didn't go well for Burnett in the Bronx, as he posted ERAs of 4.04, 5.26, and 5.15 from 2009-2011 and was then traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

With the Pirates, Burnett has re-established himself as an excellent pitcher. He posted an ERA of 3.51 in 2012 and 3.30 in 2013. He struck out 26.1% of the batters he faced this year, placing him fourth in the National League, and he had the fifth lowest FIP in the National League at 2.80.

The Cost

Fangraphs has estimated that Burnett will receive a two-year, $26.2 million contract while MLB Trade Rumors has estimated that he will receive a one-year, $12 million contract. If he is extended a qualifying offer by the Pirates and declines it, any other team that signs him as a free agent would lose their first unprotected draft pick. For the Mets, that would mean losing their second round draft pick and a portion of their bonus pool.

The Fit

The Mets may need to add another arm to their rotation and Burnett is among the better starters on the market. However, he may be reluctant to return to New York after his harrowing experience pitching for the Yankees. Burnett has stated that he may retire and that he wants to go out as a Pirate. Neil Huntington, the Pirates’ GM, has indicated that he would like to bring Burnett back.

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