In today’s column for the Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo writes that it’s “a Baltimore-Philadelphia-Pittsburgh runoff” for the services of free agent starter A.J. Burnett.
Burnett recently announced his intent to come back for one more season, and initially drew the interest of more than a handful of teams. However, he said he prefers to stay close to his home in Maryland, knocking out a good portion of potential suitors. Now, it’s apparently up to the Orioles, Phillies, and Pirates.
Burnett, of course, has a good deal of familiarity with the Pirates, as it was with them that he resuscitated his career after an unflattering three-year stint with the Yankees. The Pirates have famously adopted defensive shifts, which was one reason why Burnett’s numbers improved. Also, as Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune notes, Burnett ditched his four-seamer in favor of the two-seamer after coming to Pittsburgh.
It’s tough to say if Burnett would experience any drop-off with a change of scenery. It doesn’t hurt that the Pirates might also give him his best chance of finishing his playing career with a championship.
Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reports that Phillies owner John Middleton flew to Las Vegas for a meeting with Bryce Harper on Friday. Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, it’s “more of a meet-and-greet than a sign-a-deal” affair, but as the club is still at the forefront of trade rumors involving the All-Star slugger, there remains a possibility (however slight) that something could be completed in the days to come.
Even now, the Phillies aren’t alone in the race to sign Harper, but recent rumors have helped whittle down the competition from five or more teams (Phillies, Nationals, White Sox, Giants, and Padres) to three strong contenders. The Giants are said to be interested in a lucrative short-term deal with the outfielder, while the Padres remain in the conversation despite inking Manny Machado to a mammoth 10-year, $300 million contract this week. It’s not yet clear just how far either team would go to outbid Philadelphia as talks with Harper intensify.
As for the Nationals and White Sox, the former officially bowed out earlier today, and MLB Network’s Jon Heyman adds that the latter won’t make a strong play for Harper as they feel the asking price and competing offers are “getting too high” for the 26-year-old’s services. If a mystery team is still in the mix, there’s been no word on their standing with Harper in the last month or so.