Paul Wezner, Senior Editor
Hmm, let's see. A.J. Burnett is a career .500 pitcher. Since his debut with the Marlins in 1999, he's been able to pitch 200 innings all of twice in those seven seasons. He can throw fire, but still struggles with his control. He's never won more than 12 games in any given season. Sounds a lot like Carl Pavano and Darren Dreifort, high potential pitchers who had injury issues but had solid years leading up to free agency, at which point they cashed in (Pavano; 4 years, $40 million, Dreifort; 5 years, $55 million). I LOVE Burnett's potential, and wouldn't at all be surprised to see him turn into an All Star, but at this point, the Tigers are likely better off saving up for a stronger free agent year, investing some of that money in a long term contract for Jeremy Bonderman and putting the rests towards a closer and maybe a salary dump to get a player through trade. But to answer the question, I would go no higher than 4 years, $36 million, something that is going to be easily trumped on the open market.
Mark Anderson, Minor League Editor
Assuming an automatic inflation on Burnett's demands because he is the top pitcher on this year's free agent market, the price is going to be a bit higher anyway. Looking first at contract length, locking Burnett up for anything more than 4 years with an option for a fifth would be misguided in my mind. Only on two occasions has AJ demonstrated the durability to pitch 200+ innings like the ace he is being touted. With a history of minor injuries in addition to his Tommy John surgery, that doesn't bode well for a player seeking a contract through his age 33 season. The Tigers would be wise to cut the length off at a time when you could cut bait prior to his likely decline heading into his mid-30s. From a financial perspective, anything around $10 million annually would seem reasonable in today's market, but a contract exceeding that amount by any appreciable margin would be excessive and unwarranted in my mind. However, I would be willing to supply additional annual salary to keep the contract length to a much more reasonable 4 years. Paying a slight yearly premium would be much preferred to paying a pitcher for poor performance at a time (the end of his contract) when he is likely to be on the downward side of his career. Overall, I'd say anything over about 4 years for $44 million, and I would seriously start to question the value of the signing.
Jason Avery, Amateur Baseball Editor
I have never been a fan of giving pitchers long-term contracts, just because of the injury risks involved and the performance rarely matches the contract given in the first place. I would've figured something like 4 years/$40 million would be close to the norm for Burnett, but with him being the top dog, he will get the five-year deal he seeks and get at least $50 million with a chance at $60 million, should a bidding war ensue and that is way too much in my opinion. If it were the 4/40 figure, I would still be wary of it, but that's the minimum you're looking at.
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