Braves appear to be front-runner for Burnett
December, 4, 2008
The hot topic in baseball Thursday was which initial-laden free-agent starter will be the first to sign -- A.J. Burnett or CC Sabathia? For weeks now, I'd have guessed it would be Sabathia. But not anymore. I'm flip-flopping over to Burnett. A source that had spoken with the Braves says they made Burnett a four-year, $60-million offer Thursday, with an easily vesting option. That fifth-year option appears to separate them from the rest of Burnett's pack, for now. But it also won't be quite enough to finish the A.J. auction. It hasn't been the Braves' history to guarantee five years for any pitcher. But clubs in the Burnett sweepstakes say they're hearing that Atlanta has told agent Darek Braunecker that if guaranteeing the fifth year will get this deal done, that's doable. That's not a place that the Blue Jays, Yankees, Orioles, Red Sox or Phillies have indicated they' re willing to go -- not yet, at least. And if they were, it's likely they'd put the same condition on their offer -- they include the fifth year only if it gets the deal done. But if the Braves have already made that clear and dangled that elusive fifth year, the question becomes, as one AL executive put it, "does Darek Braunecker dare to not jump on it?" Well, we're about to find out -- if not before the winter meetings then by sometime next week. Meanwhile, the negotiations for Sabathia have been moving along at a pace reminiscent of Bengie Molina motoring down the first-base line. The Yankees and Brewers laid out their offers more than three weeks ago. And now here we are, all those weeks later, with the winter meetings fast approaching, and "there's no timeline," said an official of one team monitoring the process. "There's no rush." Ah, but that can change. Sooner or later -- and probably sooner -- the Yankees or Brewers, or both, have to press for an answer, don't they? At some point, they need to know if CC wants to be there or if it's time to move full-bore on Plan B. And at some point, even CC will want to get this thing over with. Here's the industry scuttlebutt on his choices at the moment: Yankees: Six years, $140 million. Brewers: Five years, $100 million, with significant deferred money, and indications the Brewers would go to six years, $110 million or so -- with opt-outs and other perks -- if it would get the deal done. Giants: No formal offer, but other clubs are hearing they'd go five years, at just under $100 million, for a first bid. Dodgers: Haven't made an offer, but are believed to have told Sabathia's people they'll make one if they're told that's where he wants to go. Angels: Haven't made an offer. Still waiting around for Mark Teixeira. And that's it. So there's still a massive gulf between the Yankees' offer and anything else out there. Can this man possibly leave $30 million on the table? That answer is coming -- and very possibly as soon as next week. MORE DISHES ON THE HOT STOVE • The Giants aren't the only team interested in Florida's Jorge Cantu. There are indications the White Sox also have gotten involved. • Some below-the-radar signings you may have missed: John Van Benschoten to the White Sox, Tomo Ohka to the Indians and Elizardo Ramirez to the Rangers -- all on minor-league deals with invitations to spring training. • There's increasing buzz about the Yankees' interest in Ben Sheets, possibly an indication that they're not confident they're going to be able to sign Burnett. As this blog noted two weeks ago, the difference between Burnett's and Sheets' 2008 and career numbers are smaller than you'd think. • Haven't gotten a confirmation of the Phillies' reported offer to Derek Lowe. But agents report the Phillies have been reluctant to go beyond three years on any pitcher they've talked about this winter -- a holdover from the Pat Gillick edict. And while they might bend that for someone, it isn't likely to be for a pitcher who turns 36 in June. Also, don't forget that during the NLCS, Lowe made it clear he wasn't the president of the Citizens Bank Park Fan Club. • Nothing that has happened on the Hot Stove this week has helped Rafael Furcal's market. The Giants and Cardinals are now out. And the Braves are no longer interested in moving Yunel Escobar, now that they've dealt away Brent Lillibridge in the Javier Vazquez trade. The Tigers are exploring only low-budget options. So at this point, Furcal's choices appear to be the A's or Dodgers, with the Orioles lurking as the most likely mystery team. • Furcal's decision also could have an impact on what happens to Casey Blake. The Dodgers appear to be focused on adding offense either at shortstop or third base. So if Furcal signs with the A's, the Dodgers might have to step up their pursuit of Blake. If they lose out on both, they'd be likely to turn to the trade market at third base -- meaning Ty Wigginton and Adrian Beltre would probably jump onto their shopping list. And even if they don't bring back Furcal, the Dodgers seem to have much less interest in Jack Wilson than has been reported elsewhere. • The Mariners signed Russell Branyan this week. Bet you didn't know Branyan had the second-highest slugging percentage this season (.583) of any free agent who got at least 150 plate appearances in the big leagues. Only Manny Ramirez (.601) beat him. • And there's about to be an Andruw Jones sighting. He could start suiting up in the Dominican Republic winter league as soon as this weekend.