After some deliberation on the matter, A.J. Burnett has decided to pitch in 2014, and he might just be the best starter available on the open market. The Rays and Orioles have joined Burnett's former team, the Pirates, in attempting to sign him, according to ESPN's Peter Gammons.
While he was deciding on his future, Burnett said he'd "be back with the Pittsburgh Pirates or retire." However, while announcing his decision to pitch next season, Burnett was also reportedly open to signing with teams other than the Pirates. Since he just turned 37, he isn't likely to command a long-term deal, and his recent performance (3.41 ERA in nearly 400 innings since joining the Pirates in 2012) could combine to make him the most desirable pitcher on the market.
The Orioles have been rumored to be in search of an impact starter for most of the offseason, so their interest isn't much of a surprise. Gammons mention the club as being "all in" on Burnett. He would not cost them a draft choice, like Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez would, and he would probably consider a one-year deal since he was considering retirement just a few days ago.
Tampa Bay's interest could very well signal the end of David Price's tenure as a Ray. If Burnett signed for somewhere around the same amount as Price ($14 million), their payroll could remain steady by bringing him in and moving Price for prospects. Burnett would also give them a veteran presence at the front end of their rotation to remain competitive for the 2014 season.
His shaky performances in the AL Easts of the past might be something of a concern for these teams. From 2006 to 2008, Burnett was serviceable for the Blue Jays, posting a 3.94 ERA over 81 starts in those three seasons, but after signing with the Yankees during the winter of 2008, he struggled. In 98 starts for the Yankees, he put up a 4.79 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP. New York traded him to Pittsburgh in 2012, along with $20 million, for marginal prospects.
There are some concerns that Burnett could struggle upon a return to the AL East, but in the end, a one-year deal for a pitcher with Burnett's ability may ultimately be too tempting to pass up.