A.J. Burnett is one of those names that has been linked to the Orioles for what feels like forever. He lives in Monkton and is rumored to want to not be too far from his home. What could be closer to that than Baltimore? Reports earlier in the offseason were that he would either be retiring or pitching for the Pirates in 2014, so there seemed to be no point in wishing for him to be on the Orioles. However, that may have changed, reports a beat writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
A.J. Burnett will return to pitch in '14, per source. Burnett will be open to pitching for a club other than the Pirates— Travis Sawchik (@Sawchik_Trib) January 28, 2014
Ken Rosenthal notes that the Orioles would be another team in play for Burnett, and possibly the Phillies. This is all keeping with the idea of being relatively local.
Burnett, unlike Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, would not come at the cost of a draft pick for the Orioles, which may make him a more palatable option. He is coming off the last year of a contract that was paying him $16.5 million per year. He'll soon turn 38, but he isn't going to be in the bargain basement quite yet, as he performed capably in 2013.
Our Kevin Ebert looked at Burnett as a possible target for the Orioles earlier this month. There's a lot to like, including the fact that he struck out over a batter per inning - starters are allowed to do that? - and has gotten over 50% ground balls in each of the past two seasons while pitching in Pittsburgh. That's the kind of stuff that will lead to good outcomes.
How much was Burnett helped by pitching in the National League? He had a 5+ ERA in his last two years in a Yankees uniform before being traded. He's upped his strikeout rate significantly since those years, and cut down on the home runs.
Switching from Yankee Stadium to PNC Park may have helped to cut down on the home runs. Pittsburgh had the second-lowest park factor for home runs in 2013, according to ESPN. Yankee Stadium was 9th and Oriole Park was 4th. That's one reason to temper optimism, though if he keeps the ground ball rate so high, he shouldn't suffer as much as he did in his latter New York days.
However, even if his results may backslide somewhat, he's likely to represent an upgrade over what's currently in competition for the Orioles rotation. He would not be the #1 starter, but there aren't five starters better than him, either. Unless the Orioles would end up paying for the year he falls off the cliff, which would be pretty typical for the Orioles, come to think of it.
In any case, Burnett is reportedly out there on the market now, so it's time for the Orioles to reportedly be interested in him and then he actually ends up signing with someone else and a week later we find out they never even spoke to him.