Burnett comes to AL East, but as a Jay, not an Oriole

Orioles Start Dealing

December 07, 2005|By DAN CONNOLLY | DAN CONNOLLY,SUN REPORTER

Dallas -- The Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals tried, but in the end the Toronto Blue Jays signed former Florida Marlins right-hander A.J. Burnett to a five-year, $55 million contract yesterday - placing another quality arm in the American League East.

The Orioles, still searching to improve their starting rotation, did little to stop a division rival from signing Burnett, according to the pitcher and his agent.

"Washington was close. Baltimore never did anything," Burnett said. "There's not much else to say. They didn't do much."

Burnett, whose wife is from Bowie, was a top target of manager Sam Perlozzo and new pitching coach Leo Mazzone. "For me, he was a perfect guy for Leo to really get, as good as his stuff is," Perlozzo said. "But there are other people out there, too. ... You can't come in here looking at one particular person and go home crying if you don't get them."

But team management felt otherwise, never having significant talks with his agent, Darek Braunecker, after the November general manager meetings. Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan said the Orioles cooled after talking parameters with Braunecker. One industry source said team owner Peter Angelos had no interest in offering a five-year deal to a below-.500 pitcher.

In July, the Orioles were close to trading for Burnett, 28, but the deal fell through when they refused to take on third baseman Mike Lowell's salary and trade top pitching prospect Hayden Penn.

Braunecker said he didn't know the specific reasons, but said, "They weren't a [serious] player. I think it was a bit of a surprise due to, if nothing else, the interest they showed in the season."

The Nationals, however, ended up as a finalist for Burnett after offering a four-year, $40 million deal. It was too little and too late, Braunecker said.

"D.C., their hands were tied. It is unfortunate, unfair to them," Braunecker said. "They made a late run. They were aggressive late, but I think we were too far down the line at that point. The [Toronto deal] was made or on the verge of being made."

Burnett, whose talent belies his 49-50 career record, said he and his wife discussed relocating to Washington, but there were too many questions with the ownerless Nationals.

Ultimately, Burnett said he felt comfortable in Toronto and wanted to work with pitching coach Brad Arnsberg, who tutored him with the Marlins in 2002.

"This is going to be a fun five years," Burnett said. "I am looking forward to every day of it to go to work and be extremely happy to go there and win ballgames."

Burnett becomes the second Marlins pitcher to join the AL East this offseason, after the Boston Red Sox traded for Josh Beckett in November. While their rivals have bolstered already strong pitching staffs (the New York Yankees added reliever Kyle Farnsworth) the Orioles have been unable to secure any pitching - something Perlozzo said is key.

The Orioles have been mentioned as possible suitors for free agents Kevin Millwood, Matt Morris, Kenny Rogers and Jarrod Washburn and a potential trade partner for Minnesota's Kyle Lohse and the New York Mets' Kris Benson.

"I'm actually interested in any starter right now," Perlozzo said. "We got Leo to come on board with us and I'm maybe overconfident ... that he could help some of the guys that maybe need to get over the hump."

It won't be easy for the Orioles to add pitching help. Millwood and Washburn are represented by super agent Scott Boras, and Flanagan said he had not had any in-depth conversations with him this week. He also said he hadn't talked with Morris' agent.

With Burnett's signing, Millwood rises to the top of many clubs' wish lists and, said one industry source, could command a four-year, $48 million deal. Morris likely becomes the Cardinals' main priority after losing out on Burnett. One industry source said Morris is likely waiting to get an offer from St. Louis today.

Nationals general manager Jim Bowden said he made "significant offers" to several pitchers yesterday including Millwood, Morris and Rogers.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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