Burnett and the Dominoes

Lining up all the dominoes and then... waiting.

The rumor mill is going to vibrate violently off its axis if the A.J. Burnett saga runs on for too many more days. Expect it to do just that, however.


In this kind of a situation, it becomes more difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff, so I am not even going to try to share all the rumors and who is saying what. However, I can focus on what I am being told.


As I said yesterday, by all indications, the Cardinals have the leading offer in front of Burnett. But, Burnett has not yet passed a physical, which seems to be a necessary step in insuring at least part of the megabucks contract he is expected to sign. The primary question is whether the announcement will occur prior to the Winter Meetings, which don't officially begin until next Monday. The Cards' offer is expected to expire before then, but there is no saying there can't be another, and another...

My sources suggest one version of the offer is four years for $36 million plus a fifth year team option at $10.5 million.

However, if a Baltimore (the home area of Burnett's wife) or Toronto steps in with a better deal in the meantime, all bets could still be off. The Cardinals don't think that will happen, but they have been disappointed before, hence the concern.


Losing Burnett at this point could be devastating for the Cardinals, who have been working on a related trade of Jason Marquis and others for offensive help. That will likely take the form of an impact corner outfielder, but could possibly include a second baseman.


Obviously, if there is no Burnett, and with Matt Morris apparently getting solid offers elsewhere, the Cardinals would lack the pitching surplus to make a Marquis trade, at least temporarily.


This is why the team is trying so hard to keep things quiet. Lose Burnett and the house of cards fall… and would have to rebuilt with another foundation began with what would be assumed to be a lesser player, such as a Kevin Millwood or (gasp) Matt Morris.


Regarding the second shoe to drop, following are a list of teams and players that I am told the Cardinals have had discussions about. At this point, I don't know the exact Cardinals players involved in any particular deal, as each possible trade likely has a different combination. I also don't know which ones are solid and in which cases inquiries were simply turned away.


None of these names should surprise you any more than they did me. After all, wouldn't we expect the Cardinals to see who is out there before making a deal? Many of these names have been mentioned in the past in one place or another. Finally, commentary on these potential deals is my opinion only.


Phillies – Bobby Abreu. I am surprised to learn there has been a dialogue open between the two teams. However, the Phillies may also have something brewing with the Orioles that they like better. 


Commentary: I can't believe the Phillies would pay much if any of Abreu's $13 million salary and growing in 2007 and potentially, 2008. I don't see how the Cardinals could clear enough salary to make this deal work and still be able to fill their other holes – at least within the publicly-shared budget constraints. We're not talking about an end-of-career Larry Walker here.


Marlins - Luis Castillo. However, the Cards are still in discussion with Mark Grudzielanek's agent and seem to still prefer the latter as their 2006 second baseman. 


Commentary: Castillo, a ten-year veteran, is now 30 years old and while his on-base percentage remains strong (near .400), his running has dropped substantially. Some of that may have been due to Jack McKeon's managing style, but it may also have to do with the nagging injuries that hamper older players. He'll make $5 million next season and $5.75M in 2007. Castillo would surely come at a steeper price than Grudz, both in salary dollars and cost of prospects to get him.


Nationals – Brad Wilkerson

Commentary: An interesting idea that has been bandied about for some days now on the message boards. Wilkerson is arbitration-eligible and could become a free agent in two seasons. Salary-wise, he might be a wash with Marquis.


Blue Jays – Frank Catalanotto, Alexis Rios


Commentary: Catalanotto's name has come up in the past, but I see him as a reserve, not a starter. Rios is a very intriguing player. He is young, inexpensive and has great tools. He also has yet to emerge, but I like his potential a lot. For that reason, he may not be available.


Rangers – Kevin Mench, David Dellucci


Commentary: Dellucci is another fourth outfielder type who had a great first half of 2005. Then, all the trade talk began and he went into the tank shortly after. Mench, on the other hand, is a power bat with upside who has never seemed to stay well and get consistent playing time prior to 2005. He is arbitration-eligible for the first time.


Dodgers – Jayson Werth


Commentary: If the Dodgers sign Giles, they might be able to spare Werth, who has struggled with injuries. Seems like staying Los Angeles would be the best fit for him with J.D. Drew around to look up to.


Reds – Ken Griffey, Austin Kearns, Adam Dunn


Commentary: Each of these has their own problems. Griffey with money and health issues, Kearns has effectiveness questions and Dunn may be too high-priced. Hard to see the Reds trading with anyone, especially their intradivisional rival.


Devil Rays – Aubrey Huff, Joey Gathright, and Johnny Gomes  


Commentary: Interesting names, all. As a proven bat, Huff will likely fetch more than the Cards can give. Gathright could become Vince Coleman, but at least a dozen teams are supposedly after him. Gomes would have been nice to get a year ago, but may be overpriced coming off a campaign in which he placed third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting.


The rest of the picture


The Cardinals definitely do seem to have interest in signing Jacque Jones for the other corner. This is likely due to Brian Giles' unwillingness to accept the offer previously discussed and few trade chits available to them.  


Regarding timing of the Burnett announcement and the subsequent trade, the Cardinals have outside pressure, too.


I learned of another memo, more interesting than the one sent around the Cardinals offices. This directive originated from the Commissioner's Office and urges all clubs to maximize the potential public relations value of the Winter Meetings to announce signings and trades at that venue "if at all possible". This is especially true if the free agent signing "involves any of the Top 10 players."


Imagine this coming from the finely tuned PR machine that managed to upstage their own National League Most Valuable Player Award ceremony with the announcement of the new steroids policy the exact same day. No wonder no one takes them seriously.


In the meantime, straighten those dominoes again… and don't sneeze!


Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

(Updated at 6:45am CDT Thursday.)

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