12/11/08 12:41 AM EST
Braves trying to attract Burnett
Atlanta has heavy competition for free-agent righty's services
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
Sixteen years ago, the Braves lured Maddux to Atlanta, despite the fact that the Yankees provided a greater financial offer. Now Atlanta finds itself in a position where it's hoping history repeats itself.
The Yankees made the biggest splash during this year's Winter Meetings on Wednesday, when CC Sabathia agreed to accept their seven-year, $160 million offer. Still hungry to further improve their rotation, the Bombers then provided A.J. Burnett with a five-year offer that one source believed to be worth $85 million.
This obviously provided reason for concern for Braves general manager Frank Wren. But before attending a dinner on Wednesday evening, he remained hopeful that he'll prove successful in his attempt to lure Burnett to Atlanta.
"We think that we're still in it," Wren said. "We have no reason to believe that we're not."
Wren didn't talk about the specifics of his recent negotiations with Burnett's agent, Darek Braunecker. Braunecker confirmed that the two parties prolonged their dialogue Wednesday, and he also said they are now three viable suitors for Burnett. Those teams are the Braves, Yankees and an unidentified club.
"We've cut the field to a manageable number," said Braunecker. "And now we can move further ahead with full-scale negotiations."
Braunecker is unsure when Burnett will make a decision.
While it's unknown whether they've done so yet, it's believed that the Braves have been prepared to offer Burnett a five-year, $80 million contract. Atlanta is in a desperate search for an ace, and if it doesn't land Burnett, the Braves likely aren't going to find a comparable option to fill the top spot in their starting rotation.
Thus, there's certainly a chance the Braves will once again attempt to trump the offer made by the Yankees. But at the same, they aren't going to get into a bidding war that forces them to extend an offer beyond their responsible financial means.
Burnett and Derek Lowe remain the only two available free-agent starters who could legitimately be considered aces. The Braves haven't pursued Lowe, and there remains no indication that they plan to do so.
Wren said that he staged some meetings to further explore the possibility of landing other starting pitchers via the trade and free-agent markets. When asked if any of these starters could be considered "an ace," he replied, "I'll let other people make that evaluation."
A current evaluation of the Burnett pursuit could easily lead one to believe that it will come up empty, much like the Jake Peavy trade negotiations that the Braves ended a month ago.
Seemingly always intent on using his no-trade clause to steer him toward the Cubs, Peavy never seemed excited about the opportunity to come to Atlanta and serve as the key piece to the Braves' future. This is an opportunity that might also seem disinteresting to Burnett, whom some believe gained comfort pitching in the shadows of Roy Halladay in Toronto.
If he chooses to sign with the Yankees, Burnett would provide himself an opportunity to win while once again staying outside of the spotlight that will shine on Sabathia. In Atlanta, he would serve as the key piece to the efforts that the Braves are making to revive their winning ways.
Wherever Burnett lands, there will be fans and media members who will criticize providing such a financially lucrative five-year contract to a pitcher who has completed 200 innings just three times during his eight full Major League seasons.
But it's pretty safe to assume Burnett would encounter a much higher level of scrutiny in New York than he would in Atlanta. If looking for a comparison, one only has evaluate the difference in the ways Carl Pavano and Mike Hampton were treated during their injury-plagued stints with the Yankees and Braves, respectively.
Before the Winter Meetings conclude on Thursday, Wren will continue his pursuit of Burnett and also explore other options to improve his rotation. In addition, he said that he's still attempting to improve his bench and land a power-hitting outfielder.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.