Dallas -- Perhaps the biggest prize of this free-agent market is closing in on a destination, but not without a "significant offer" in hand from a Beltway-area team.
The Washington Nationals, who still have no concrete budget or team owner, have made a proposal to Florida Marlins right-hander A.J. Burnett, according to general manager Jim Bowden.
Although Bowden didn't reveal specifics, one industry source believed it to be in the four-year, $40 million range - about the same as the St. Louis Cardinals' offer and less than the five-year, roughly $55 million deal dangled by the Toronto Blue Jays.
Bowden had made an offer Sunday and said he was given permission by Major League Baseball to increase it.
"They're pretty far down the road, I think," Bowden said of his competition for Burnett. "But nothing was done when we had the opportunity to meet with them. So we jumped right in the middle of the fire, and I think we're a team he's considering."
One ESPN.com report said Burnett (12-12, 3.44 ERA in 2005) was close to signing with Toronto, but Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi wouldn't confirm it.
"Our offer is there," Ricciardi said. "Eventually someone's going to make a decision."
Heading into the offseason, the Nationals and Orioles looked to be potential players for Burnett because his wife is from Bowie.
Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan basically conceded last night his team had dropped out, saying "we haven't had any further discussions" with Burnett's agent, Darek Braunecker. The sides haven't had substantial talks since the general managers meetings last month.
Bowden still hopes the Burnetts' local connection will be a deciding factor in the right-hander's final decision.
"I think A.J.'s very comfortable with our organization. I think A.J. and his wife geographically like the area. I think it makes sense for them," Bowden said. "I will tell you that he's going to have very good choices to make."
The Orioles' rotation may be short on experience and success, but it is deep in ethnic diversity - and that will make a difference this March.
Major League Baseball announced yesterday that 177 players already have agreed to play in its inaugural, 16-country World Baseball Classic, including eight Orioles.
Shortstop Miguel Tejada (Dominican Republic) and third baseman Melvin Mora (Venezuela) lead a group that includes minor league pitchers Adam Loewen (Canada) and John Stephens (Australia) and all four members of the team's current starting rotation: Rodrigo Lopez (Mexico), Erik Bedard (Canada), Daniel Cabrera (Dominican Republic) and Bruce Chen (Panama).
Most of the teams will begin practice March 3, with the tournament's championship game slated for March 20. The Orioles will be without the bulk of their rotation for at least a week in spring training.
"Look at it this way, they are all not going to be gone for three weeks," said Orioles broadcaster Buck Martinez, who will manage the USA team. "Some of them are going to be back if they lose."
Flanagan is not overly concerned about his pitchers' involvement, especially since there will be pitch and inning limits similar to spring protocol.
"I think everybody in baseball is under the same pressures with this," he said.
Other headliners for the classic include Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Severna Park's Mark Teixeira (USA), Vladimir Guerrero (Dominican Republic), Mike Piazza (Italy) and Alex Rodriguez (undecided between U.S. and Dominican).
One Oriole who won't be playing is second baseman Brian Roberts, who is recovering from elbow surgery.
"He had a significant injury that probably eliminated him from consideration because we want him to get back to playing every day," Martinez said. "You just can't ask a guy to deviate from his rehab."
Because it is an international competition, the World Baseball Classic will be under the same strict guidelines of drug testing as any Olympic-type event. If a major leaguer tests positive during the games it will not affect his status for the upcoming major league season. All players in the classic will also have to be tested additionally during spring training as part of baseball's new program.