It doesn’t sound as though A.J. Burnett is bullpen bound

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Yankees GM Brian Cashman came to the defense of beleaguered right-hander A.J. Burnett on Friday amid speculation that the $18 million-per-year pitcher could get sent to the pen.

“The stuff on A.J. is well overblown,” Cashman said. “A.J. Has been solid for us this year. I just think the way it’s playing doesn’t necessarily reflect the way he’s pitched. Let’s put it that way. The public outcry recently is all emotion rather than actual.”

Cashman noted that Burnett, who last won on June 29, hasn’t received the same kind of help Yankees starters typically get.

“If you peel the onion, if he hasn’t won in two months, look at his starts,” he said. “He’s got one of the least amounts of run support. If you break down his start by start scenario and you look at those starts, it’s not bad.”

But it’s not good either.  Burnett has allowed more than four earned runs just three times this year, but he hasn’t turned in a Quality Start (at least six innings, no more than three runs) since that last win eight starts ago against Milwaukee.  By any measure, he’s been the least effective of the Yankees’ six starters.

Still, I’m with Cashman here: it’s worth leaving Burnett in the rotation to see if he can turn it around, in large part because Phil Hughes seems likely to be more useful in the pen come October anyway.  Burnett has never pitched in relief, and it seems unlikely that he’d make a quick adjustment to working out of the pen.

The Nationals expect Bryce Harper to test free agency

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Earlier this week at the Winter Meetings, Scott Boras said that he and the Washington Nationals had had preliminary discussions about a contract extension for Bryce Harper. Harper, of course, can become a free agent following the 2018 season and is widely expected to command the largest contract in baseball history.

While that may have given some Nationals fans hope that no other team would get the chance to bid on him, the Nationals are of the view that they have no shot to sign Harper before he at least tests the free agent market. From USA Today’s Bob Nightengale:

A lot of this seems like mutual posturing, doesn’t it? Boras trying to make it appear as though the he and Harper are giving the Nats a fair hearing and the Nats trying to make it appear as though, no matter what they do, Harper is going to hit the market. I tend to believe, personally, that Boras and Harper are hellbent on testing the market, but it’s possible that there is some number that the Nats can offer to head that off, right? Maybe?

Either way: big year ahead for Harper.