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11/19/08 9:56 AM EST

Bidding war brewing in East for Burnett

Yankees, Red Sox among those interested in signing righty

Judging by how many teams are pursuing his services, A.J. Burnett's decision to opt out of his contract with Toronto is looking shrewd.

With Ryan Dempster off the market after re-signing with the Cubs on Tuesday, Burnett has suddenly become the central free-agent pitching target on the market, at least until the CC Sabathia sweepstakes pick up steam.

As of Wednesday morning, every American League East team except Tampa Bay, plus the Phillies and Braves, were believed to be prepared to make an offer or were considering making an offer for Burnett.

Burnett opted out of the remaining two years of his contract with the Blue Jays to become a free agent, a move that cost him $24 million. But Toronto wants him back. The Braves are looking for a front-of-the-rotation starter, and the Phillies are also interested, but may not be willing to offer the years it will likely require to secure Burnett's signature.

If it comes down to money, as it usually does in free agency, we could be on the verge of a bidding war between the Yankees and Red Sox for Burnett.

Burnett will turn 32 in January, having gone 18-10 with a 4.07 ERA for the Blue Jays this past season. He led the American League with 34 starts and 231 strikeouts, fanning 9.39 batters per nine innings.

Hot Stove

The Yankees, who made Sabathia a six-year, $140 million offer on Friday, want Burnett for a number of reasons. Burnett has had success against Boston, going 2-0 with a 2.60 ERA in 2008. He's also pitched well against the defending division champion Rays. If the Yankees land Sabathia, Burnett would give New York a formidable trio at the top of the rotation -- with Chien-Ming Wang -- and arguably make the Yankees the team to beat in the East.

The Red Sox have been pondering Burnett as a possibility since before the General Managers Meetings in California two weeks ago. Once Burnett declared he was opting out, the Red Sox quietly picked up the pursuit.

It is clear both the Yankees and Red Sox want Burnett, and both do not want the other to land him if they don't get him.

Burnett's gamble is about to pay off big time.

Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.