checkmate

burnett to the jays, per tuesday's toronto globe and mail:

Jays open vault and get Burnett
By JEFF BLAIR
Tuesday, December 6, 2005 Posted at 3:10 AM EST

Dallas -- The Toronto Blue Jays landed their second marquee free agent of the off-season last night, agreeing to terms with right-handed pitcher A.J. Burnett on a five-year, $55-million (all figures U.S.) contract that leaves the team poised to significantly upgrade its offence.

According to major-league sources, Burnett, who was 12-12 and had a 3.44 earned-run average with the Florida Marlins last season, will receive $7-million next season, including a signing bonus, and will be paid $12-million for the next four years of the deal. The contract is pending a physical examination, which Burnett is scheduled to undergo today in Tampa.

Burnett is scheduled to arrive here in time for an afternoon news conference.

General manager J.P. Ricciardi met yesterday afternoon with Darek Braunecker, the agent for Burnett, and Mark Rodgers, Braunecker's partner and legal counsel. Sources familiar with the negotiations said that Braunecker went into the session knowing that the Blue Jays would not increase their offer and that much of the meeting was spent going over ancillary details.

The St. Louis Cardinals were said to have offered a four-year package worth $45-million, but they would only agree to a fifth year as an option. The Washington Nationals entered the picture last Sunday, but sources said Burnett's decision came down to either the Blue Jays or Cardinals.

Burnett cheered for the Cardinals as a child.

Joining the Blue Jays would reunite him with pitching coach Brad Arnsberg, who served as his mentor while they were with the Marlins.

Coupled with the signing of B.J. Ryan to a five-year, $47-million contract, the Blue Jays have set themselves up to use pitching depth -- particularly Miguel Batista -- to pursue a bat for the middle of the order.

They will talk to the Nationals about Brad Wilkerson, as well as revisiting discussions with the Milwaukee Brewers about Lyle Overbay and the Texas Rangers about Kevin Mench. ESPN reported that the Blue Jays have talked to the Philadelphia Phillies about Bobby Abreu, but that would be a cost-prohibitive move.

so, now what? first of all, lay off brian walton. the guy has been taking a beating in all the chat rooms for having posted ? prematurely, and inaccurately ? late on sunday night that the cards were on the verge of landing aj burnett. he apparently made the exact same mistake in 2004 vis-vis renteria, and people are drenching the guy in bile. nasty, nasty stuff.

we are all frustrated: the cardinals came up short again, and again the team must fill its roster holes under difficult circumstances ? little trade leverage and a shriveling free-agent market. the fans need a punching bag, and walton would seem to richly deserve that honor. but keep in mind that several mainstream reporters had much the same story (based on their own sources) as walton did. just a few hours after walton?s story went up, joe strauss said on bernie?s radio show that burnett "was the cardinals? to lose"; geoff baker of the toronto star filed a story at noon yesterday describing how "word flowed through the lobby of the Wyndham Anatole Hotel ? site of baseball's annual winter meetings ? that Burnett was about to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals". granted, walton alone reported certain details ? eg, that burnett was en route to st louis for a physical ? that proved to be wrong, and he used the phrase "agreed to terms," an extremely unfortunate (and unwarranted) choice of words. but if it?s fair criticism to say that walton failed to exercise proper journalistic restraint, it?s also fair to say that anybody who accepted his report uncritically failed to read with the proper degree of skepticism ? particularly since walton?s premature renteria report in ?04 is apparently so notorious.

also in walton?s defense, something important changed on monday morning, 10 hours after he posted his article: the blue jays finally offered the guaranteed 5-year deal that burnett and his agent had sought for so long.

that changed the whole dynamic of the negotiations; if brian?s article was 80 pct true when he posted it, the blue jays? offer rendered it 0 pct true. but the offer came ex post facto; can?t blame walton for not knowing about it in advance.

like a lot of observers, i was slow to pick up on the significance of the 5th-year guarantee ? which was really stupid, since i wrote a whole post about it over the weekend. i convinced myself that the burnett team considered toronto?s offer a mere bargaining chip, something with which to wheedle a 5-year deal out of jocketty. if the cards simply wait out burnett?s bluff, i believed, their 4-year-plus-vesting-5th offer will probably suffice. i wasn?t the only one with that opinion, but it looks pretty foolish in retrospect.

i do not know brian walton, and i?m not suggesting that he should receive a free pass here. he screwed up, and hence he?s fair game. but keep it in perspective. don?t hold walton solely responsible for the fact that you had your hopes raised and then dashed. we were excited not because of what brian wrote but because we knew that as of last wednesday night the cardinals had the best offer on the table ? an advantage they held until about noon on monday ? and that burnett wanted to play in st louis. when the jays came in with a better offer, the cardinals had the chance to match it; they chose not to.

questions:

  1. should the cardinals have caved in and guaranteed the 5th year?
  2. how do they get their needs met?

if i were in charge, i would have guaranteed burnett 5 years. the way the market is going, 5 yr / $50 is not an outlandish deal. to quote myself,

with byrd off the market, all of the best remaining pitchers either [are] represented by the toxic scott boras (washburn weaver and millwood) or [are] of the been-there-done-that variety (matt morris). supposedly matt already has a 3 yr / $ 24m offer in hand from san francisco, and in the wake of loaiaza's signing . . . . morris's price might go even higher. so what's riskier -- a pitcher in decline at $8.5m per, or a pitcher whose best years may still lie ahead at $10m? byrd's signing may have tipped the market to the point that burnett at 5 / $50 looks like a bargain -- the best deal the cards are likely to get.
i?d also say this: of all the pitchers on the market, only one is a potential postseason difference-maker: burnett. those who now remain reek of that #3-starterness that serves the cardinals very well in the regular season but leaves them disadvantaged in october pitching pairings. add in the fact that the cardinals have a) a new stadium; b) a new revenue stream from their radio deal; c) about $30m in play money from the new tv deal; and d) two consecutive postseason paydays, and i think the cardinals flat cheaped out. if you?re not willing to overspend a little now, then when? and it?s not as if a 5-yr guarantee would have violated some law of nature ? nor even a law of sabermetrics. if the cards? final offer was really 4 yr / $45m, as the globe+mail article suggests, then what on god?s green earth held them back from offering 5 yr / $50m? or 5 / $52m?

insurance, per the post dispatch. in-flipping-surance. toronto's got sabermetricians calling the shots; the cards have got actuaries . . . .

nonetheless, this decision can easily be redeemed if jock makes wise use of the dollars set aside for burnett. which brings us to the second question: what would a wise use look like? i see a range of options:

  1. modified plan A: sign an accomplished starting pitcher, then trade marquis for an outfielder or bullpen help
  2. plan B: trade marquis but don?t allocate large $$$ on a fifth starter; fill the slot from within the organization or off the free-agent scrap heap
  3. plan C: keep marquis and buy outfielders / 2b / relievers at retail on the free-agent market
i?ll be taking these in turn as my schedule permits ? and assuming jocketty doesn?t move more quickly than i do.

Update [2005-12-6 11:24:22 by lboros]: by the way, there is non burnett content!!! directly below, if you haven't seen it

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