Burnett remains unsigned, quiet about plans
There's been plenty of speculation about where free-agent righty will end up
When last seen at PNC Park, A.J. Burnett was trotting out to the third-base foul line, pounding his heart with his fist in response to the roars of adoring fans cascading down on him.
Four months after that memorable introduction prior to the Pirates' first home playoff game in 21 years, no one truly knows yet where Burnett's heart is for the 2014 season.
The right-hander's free agency, which apparently hit the open field 10 days ago with reports that he would consider pitching for a team other than the Pirates, continues as a mystery. Not a whodunit, but a who will do it?
In this age of the 24-hour news cycle, when players and agents and club executives routinely negotiate or at least seek leverage through media and blog plants, Burnett has managed the impossible: complete secrecy.
Neither Burnett nor his agent, Darek Braunecker, have uttered a single offseason word publicly about the pitcher's agenda. Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington likewise keeps matters close to his vest, by design.
"I like nothing more than to surprise people with a move," Huntington said. "We don't need to announce what we're doing."
So, filling the void have been the "reports."
The latest came Friday, from Philadelphia.
Similarly tight-lipped GM Ruben Amaro Jr. of the Phillies, who had been considered one of Burnett's leading options, seemed to take himself of the running.
"I don't suspect we'll be doing anything," Amaro, speaking generically, told Philadelphia media. "I think we've got what we've got. I suspect we'll go into the season with what we've got -- or at least Spring Training with what we've got. We're always looking, always trolling. I know there are guys out there, but I don't suspect us having anything major coming through."
The conclusion drawn by many from that was an end of the possibility of Burnett signing with the Phillies.
Others' conclusion is that if the Phillies are out of the picture, the Pirates again have the inside track. Because, according to "reports," Burnett, prioritizing staying close to his Maryland home, was only considering Philadelphia, Baltimore and Pittsburgh. And there have also been "reports" that he wants to stay in the National League.
Burnett publicly shot down that perception Friday morning via Twitter (@wudeydo34). He has been far more open during the winter with his fan followers than with the media, and reacting to the message, "reports say u prefer the NL," Burnett replied, "Reports also say people saw a UFO in Cali on New Years!"
For the same geographic reasons, the Washington Nationals at one point were considered a possible landing spot for Burnett. Despite the Nats' early December acquisition of Doug Fister from Detroit, this could still happen -- a chance to go out with a winner is paramount for a veteran such as Burnett, and the Nationals rank as NL East front-runners. Washington already has a stacked rotation but, with the exception of Fister, who turned 30 days ago, they're all in their 20s. New manager Matt Williams may lobby for a leader of Burnett's stature.
With the official start of Spring Training less than a week away -- the Pirates, like most teams, have their first formal workout for pitchers and catchers on Thursday -- Burnett belongs to a scrum of four premier free-agent starting pitchers who remain unsigned. Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Bronson Arroyo are the ones complicating the market.
Of those right-handers, the one most affecting the 37-year-old Burnett's market is Arroyo, who turns 37 later this month. Openly dismayed by a lack of offers, Arroyo recently dropped his sights to a two-year deal for about $22 million. Interestingly, that is an annual value approaching what the Pirates are willing to offer to Burnett.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.