With a disappointing Super Bowl behind us most hot-stovers are anxiously looking forward to Thursday, when pitchers and catchers report to spring training for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Each day following, a new club opens up spring workouts and in three weeks most of us will rush home from work to catch the tail end of a Grapefruit league debacle between the Phillies and Mets. If nothing more than to satisfy our nine-inning itch nagging us since October, perhaps some of us will also turn up the thermostat, put on some shorts and a t-shirt to channel the tropical heat while the relentless snow falls outside. I’m sure there are more than a few of you dying for a dirty-water-dog from your local ball park accompanied by a ten dollar brew. On March first it’s the best money you’ve spent all winter. But, aside from practicing steal breaks in my living room and boiling hot-dogs as my potpourri there are a few loose ends clubs and players need to tie up before spring training gets into full swing.
With Masahiro Tanaka signing a $153 million dollar deal with the Yankees the frenzy for pitching has tempered to a low sizzle. A few quality arms still remain unsigned in the home stretch to spring training. Ervin Santana turns thirty one this year and is looking for a long-term deal to take him into the sunset of his career. It’s been reported by the Kansas City Star that Santana is pursuing a five year deal in the neighborhood of $112 million. Coming off a career ERA year of 3.24 it’s unlikely he’ll remane unsigned for too much longer. Although, he’ll have to settle for a lot less money. The common wisdom among the baseball literati see Santana landing a one or two year deal in the $12 to $15 million dollar range. A fair price for a team in the market for a middle rotation or number two starter who fills the strike zone.
Another big name still outside in the cold is Ubaldo Jimenez. With a 3.30 ERA last season and a career high strikeout rate, Jimenez could be an asset for a club looking to improve their starting rotation. In 2010, Jimenez had one of the best starts to a season in history. He finished with a 2.88 ERA and a 19-8 win/loss record. However, he also posted a career high in wild pitches with 16. Since 2010 Jimenez has struggled with his command and most clubs in the mix to sign him will certainly take a long look at his mechanics. It’s been reported that Cleveland tendered a $14.1 million dollar offer and Baltimore and the New York Yankees are courting the hurler, but people close to Jimenez seem to think Toronto has an edge over the other suiters. The city of Toronto fits Jimenez’s “worldly” penchant and could remove him far enough away from the spotlight to allow him to refine his mechanics with pitching coach, Pete Walker.
Perhaps the biggest two names unsigned are Bronson Arroyo and AJ Burnett. Arroyo has bounced around the league, but found a comfortable spot in Cincinnati for the last eight years. Even though he is thirty-seven years old, Arroyo has never been on the disabled list. This fact should assuage fears of his age and risk of depreciating value. Teams like the Phillies could find a soft spot for the reliable right-hander between Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in the rotation or place him as a dominant third starter. The only factor holding most teams back must be the price tag. At three years, $30 million dollars some teams scoff at these numbers. But, this late in the off-season and the desperation expressed by Arroyo it could be a happy marriage with anyone willing to get a deal done in the $22-$28 million dollar range for three years. Another option, take him for two years at $15-$18 million with an option for a third at $10-$12. Whatever the case, Arroyo should find a home quickly. He won’t last much longer on the market with the type of consistent numbers he has. But, Arroyo should avoid the cautionary tale of Kyle Lohse throwing bullpens at a sandlot in Arizona holding out for more money until signing in mid-March (twice, 2004 and 2013).
The final free agent pitcher on the market worth talking about is AJ Burnett. AJ was a conundrum wrapped up in an enigma for three years with the Yankees. Whenever he pitched he either got torched or threw a gem with little run support. It was painful to watch. He began a promising career with Florida, moved on to Toronto and then landed with the Yankees. In 2009, Burnett won a world series with the Bronx Bombers, but fell from grace after a few dismal seasons. For the past two years he’s found a renaissance with Pittsburgh. Whether or not any other clubs are interested in signing him should be irrelevant in his decision. He”s thirty-seven years old and has endeared himself in the heart of a city that matches his brand of baseball and asserted himself as a leader in a young and vibrant clubhouse. I want to send two messages here. To Aj; recognize what you have in Pittsburgh and help yourself by building a legacy with the Buccos. To Pittsburgh; offer him market price for what he’s done (considering age, performance, etc.), reward him for breathing oxygen into a lifeless franchise and promote him as a mentor to your strong, young arms.
I’d like to know what your feelings are on AJ Burnett. Should he stay? Or should he go?