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Burnett Dines With D.C. Brass, But Byrd Is The Word In Washington

[November 16th] -- I guess that professional baseball teams are forced to do and say things for appearances sake. Team's will say and do things with absolutely no intentions of following through on them. One can only hope the Nats' dinner with pitcher A. J. Burnett falls into that category.

Reports have surfaced that the 28 year old free agent and his agent Darek Braunecker met with Nationals' officials at a posh Miami restaurant Wednesday night. General manager [for the moment] Jim Bowden, assistant general managers Bob Boone and Tony Siegle, Jose Rijo, a special assistant to the general manager, and interim farm director Andy Dunn met with Burnett.

The question is ... why?

Burnett has a career record of 49-50 with a 3.73 ERA. In 2005, the oft-injured right hander crafted a 12-12, 3.44 record. Burnett, whose clubhouse personality has been questioned by many, is seeking, and will get, a 5 year, $50 million dollar contract. That's about 20% of the Nationals' current payroll.

We'll have to assume that this is all just wishful thinking on the part of the Nationals, the kind of window shopping that most of us will do while walking through Neiman-Marcus at Christmas time. No, Burnett isn't the answer. Esteban Loiaza had a better year and would resign with the Nats for a fourth of what Burnett is asking. D.C. needs another good pitcher, not a [potentially] great one.

Enter Paul Byrd.

Byrd began his career with in the Braves system, and has made stops in New York, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Atlanta [a second time] and Los Angeles. He signed as a free agent with the Braves in 2003 but hurt his arm again, forcing him to miss the entire season. A rebound 2004 season earned him a contract with the Angels in 2005. He's done well along the way. He won 15 games with the Phillies in 1999, 16 with the Phillies/Royals in 2001, and 17 in 2002, again with Kansas City. He won 12 games with the Angels last year.

Byrd is seven years older than Burnett, but will come much cheaper. Burnett will earn somewhere in the $10 million/year range, while Byrd can be signed for roughly half that amount. With the money saved by signing Byrd, the Nats could then resign both Loiaza and Carrasco. That would give the team a quality starting rotation without "breaking the bank." Livan - Patterson - Byrd - Lawrence and Carrasco; that's a pitching staff that could easily win 85 games, 90 if the Nats' position players stay healthy rebound in 2006.

TSN, my favorite baseball site, says that Burnett "has worked very hard on his delivery. He has three main pitches that he throws quite effectively: a mid-90s fastball, change-up and a dizzying curve. His bat is proving to be a major asset as well. Command has been an issue with Burnett, but it is improving. His biggest flaw is pitching from the stretch, particularly with runners in scoring position.

He's a top of the rotation guy for years to come. Of Byrd, TSN says that "he dominates right-handed hitters with his repertoire of breaking stuff. A newfound screwball is a dominating pitch. Left-handed hitters demolish him and he has a very weak fastball that rarely reaches the high 80s. He's a steady middle of the rotation pitcher.

TSN, and the other scouting reports, say that Burnett is a "sky is the limit" kind of pitcher, whose blow-by fastball makes him almost unhittable. Byrd, on the other hand, is "nice" and "middle of the rotation" and "fills in well." He probably plays well with others too. What they don't indicate, however, is that Byrd has a much higher lifetime winning percentage than Burnett does, that he produces more with less.

He's also great in the clubhouse. What's the point of having a superstar pitcher, and paying him a superstar salary if he doesn't pitch like a superstar?

Nationals' fans aren't stupid enough to believe that a team that has no owner or reasonable hope of having one anytime soon, who doesn't even have a set payroll, has any real hopes of signing what Sports Illustrated says is the sixth best free agent in the 2005 market. But the signing of Paul Byrd is a realistic goal.

Forget Burnett.

At this point, I'm not sure that the team could even afford that dinner for seven at the Forge Restaurant at Miami little alone the signing of Burnett. I mean, doesn't the light bill take precedence??

Would Byrd be a one year signing, or do you think he would demand a multiple year contract? I'd give him 2 years, but no more.
He only signed a one year contract with the Angels in 2005, so my guess is he'd be looking for security this time around, as he's pitched for 3 teams in 4 years. No question he's worth a two-year contract, but he'll be 37 in three years, and with his past arm problems, I'm not sure I'd go any longer .
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