Burnett on clock to opt out of contract
Right-hander has until Nov. 13, and has no immediate plans
TORONTO -- The A.J. Burnett watch has officially started. Now that the World Series has come and gone, the Blue Jays pitcher has until Nov. 13 to decide whether or not he'll opt out of the final two years of his contract in favor of free agency.
Burnett probably won't wait that long, but Burnett's agent, Darek Braunecker, told MLB.com that an online report indicating that the hard-throwing right-hander is expected to inform Toronto of his decision this weekend is "not accurate."
A report on ESPN.com, citing Braunecker, claimed that Burnett would decide whether or not to exercise his out prior to the start of the Major League Baseball General Managers Meetings on Monday in Dana Point, Calif. Braunecker said his comments were misunderstood.
"That's not accurate. We haven't put a timetable on anything," Braunecker said on Thursday night. "Obviously, his decision would need to be made in the next few days if indeed we wanted to have the opportunity to talk to people at the General Managers Meetings about him.
"I'm going to the GM Meetings and we've got multiple free agents this winter. For us to discuss A.J. with anybody, then he would have to exercise the out at that time."
Braunecker said that didn't necessarily mean that Burnett was going to make the decision before Monday. Burnett could very well still wait until after the meetings in California to let the Blue Jays know his plans. Until that time, Toronto has exclusive negotiating rights with the pitcher.
Braunecker maintains that Burnett is still weighing his options.
"I don't know that I can say necessarily that he's leaning one way or the other," Braunecker said. "We were waiting until we got to this point. He's got all the information and he knows everything that he needs to know to make this decision.
"Now, he's got to make the decision. If he doesn't do so, we've got to begin, in earnest, negotiations with the Blue Jays at some point. That only makes sense."
Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi and interim president and CEO Paul Beeston have both held discussions with Braunecker about Burnett's future.
Since the pitcher has yet to make his decision, though, the sides haven't delved into specifics. Toronto has expressed a willingness to extend Burnett's contract by one or two seasons, but Ricciardi noted that the two sides have yet to talk terms in the negotiations.
"We haven't gotten into specifics at all," Ricciardi said on Thursday. "We want to keep him, and he knows we want to keep him. I think we'll get into specifics as the time warrants."
Toronto had hoped to use October to make some progress in the discussions, but the club remains in the preliminary stages of negotiations. Even so, Ricciardi said he hasn't been discouraged by the pace of the talks.
"I don't think we went in with any idea where we'd be or when we'd be there," Ricciardi said. "Ultimately, it will play out. At some point, it will come to closure."
Burnett originally signed a five-year contract worth $55 million with the Blue Jays prior to the 2006 season. After a pair of injury-riddled campaigns, Burnett pieced together arguably the best showing of his career in '08, posting a personal-best 18 wins with an American League-leading 231 strikeouts.
There are still two years and $24 million left on Burnett's contract, but he appears poised to receive a significant raise this winter if he elects for free agency. If he opts out of his deal, Burnett would arguably be the top available arm behind free agent CC Sabathia in a talented pool that also includes Ben Sheets, Derek Lowe and Ryan Dempster.
Should Burnett decide to dip his toes into free-agent waters, that doesn't necessarily rule out a return to the Jays. Burnett is currently the No. 2 starter on the staff behind ace Roy Halladay, and he has a long working relationship with Toronto pitching coach Brad Arnsberg -- who signed a two-year extension at the end of this past season.
The Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Rangers, Nationals and Orioles are all rumored to have interest in the would-be free agent. Burnett, who will likely command around $16 million annually over a long-term contract, would prefer to stay near the East Coast, considering he spends his offseasons with his wife and two sons in Baltimore.
The report that indicated Burnett was going to make his decision before Monday was news to Ricciardi.
"We haven't heard anything like that at all," Ricciardi said. "We know he has that right and, if that's what he chooses to do, then he chooses to do it. But we haven't been informed of that."
Braunecker said that even if Burnett does wait until after Monday to make up his mind, the decision will probably come soon.
"For us to either be able to talk to clubs on his behalf," Braunecker said, "or to really begin full-fledged negotiations, we're going to have to get the ball rolling one way or the other in the next few days. Because, now there is a window. Now, there is a deadline, so to speak."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.