Kansas City Royals: Free Agent Watch, A.J. Burnett


Aug 20, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher  (34) throws during the first inning against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Thirty-seven year old veteran A.J. Burnett announced that he would not retire and will try his hand at the free agent market one more time. The Kansas City Royals have not openly stated that they have interest in him, but privately are sure to be looking at every free agent pitcher who has hit the market.

Burnett has a career 3.99 ERA and is coming off two very good seasons in Pittsburgh, where he struck out nearly a batter an inning.

This is good news for the Royals, because, at the very least, it creates more of a sellers market. Burnett is an attractive pitcher for many clubs because he did not receive a qualifying offer from the Pirates, meaning he does not cost the signing team a draft pick.

By most accounts, Burnett appears to be searching for a one-year-deal. This should make him a natural target for the Royals, who should be all-in this year, because it is the last year they will have James Shields. He doesn’t tie up money for the near future, when Alex Gordon‘s, Billy Butler‘s, Eric Hosmer‘s, and the bullpen’s cost will escalate.

Of course, it’s also always welcome to acquire a player with the elusive and intangible “veteran presence.” He’s been good. He’s been bad. He’s pitched well in the playoffs. He’s pitched as bad as a pitcher can pitch in the playoffs too. If any young player has problems dealing with big league life (perhaps Yordano Ventura or Kyle Zimmer in 2014), chances  are, A.J. Burnett has faced it.

Burnett tends to pitch well in ballparks that suppress home runs, which Kauffman Stadium does about as well as anywhere. He has a 3.70 ERA in 41 1/3 innings pitched at the K.

Then comes the bad.

A.J. Burnett is atrocious at every other AL Central ballpark.

Jacobs Field in Cleveland: 6.14 ERA, 44 IP, 30 ER, 8 HR, 25 BB, 34 K

Comerica Park in Detroit: 6.26 ERA, 37.1 IP, 19 ER, 4 HR, 11 BB, 23 K

Target Field in Minnesota: 9.45 ERA, 6.2 IP, 7 ER, 1 HR, 5 BB, 6 K

US Cellular in Chicago: 9.24 ERA, 25.1 IP, 26 ER, 3 HR, 7 BB, 22 K

Total: 6.51 ERA, 113.1 IP, 82 ER, 16 HR, 48 BB, 85 K, 1.27 HR/9, 3.81 BB/9, 6.75 K/9

Against other AL Central teams, Burnett, apparently, ceases being a strikeout pitcher, walks everyone, and allows way too many home runs.

Then there’s the fact that he came from the National League. Pitchers who switch to the AL tend to lose some production because they’re not longer facing pitchers or as many pinch hitters. The last three years Burnett was in the American League, he posted a 4.79 ERA in 99 games for the Yankees. He allowed a hit per inning and walked four batters per nine innings.

Despite many appealing aspects of Burnett’s ability, these red flags should be enough to give the Royals pause. He may be great for most teams who are interested in him, but he simply might be a bad fit for Kansas City.

He has always pitched well at home, no matter who his home team was (even at Yankees stadium he had a 4.14 ERA). If the Royals make a legitimate effort to acquire him, they will probably want to think about limiting the amount of times he starts on the road.