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Would you give A.J. Burnett a five-year deal?

Had a chance to speak to Darek Braunecker, A.J. Burnett's agent, on Monday. He said several interesting things, and at least one I didn't have room for in Tuesday's story about the free-agent right-hander/Monkton resident.

I first met Braunecker in 2005 when Burnett was a free agent in the process of leaving the Florida Marlins and the Orioles had a little interest. Ultimately, Burnett signed a five-year, $55 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays that was widely panned as a tremendous overpay.

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Of course, Burnett opted out of that deal at the end of the 2008 season, after he went 18-10 for the Jays, and will strike it rich again. Timing is everything in the baseball business, and Burnett and Braunecker have had impeccable timing.

Braunecker is one of the nice-guy, straight-shooting agents. That's why I was intrigued by one of his statements instead of immediately dismissing it as agentspeak.

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Braunecker said one of the big differences between the Burnett of 2005 and the Burnett of 2008 is his genuine interest in being a staff leader this time around. Part of the change has to do with Roy Halladay, the Blue Jays ace and one of the most respected pitchers in baseball. Halladay's work ethic and his leadership really affected Burnett, Braunecker said.

Burnett told me the same thing earlier this year in Toronto. Now, Braunecker said, Burnett would embrace the opportunity to lead a young staff if that opportunity arose.

"He was an unfinished product [in 2005], still developing and maturing," Braunecker said. "Now you are talking about a much different product … I don't know how much influence [a leadership possibility] would have on his decision, but if indeed that responsibility presented itself, he is prepared and fully willing to fulfill that role."

That, of course, fits with what the Orioles are looking for. Whether he is that kind of guy now that he is older (he'll be 32 by Opening Day), I don't know.

But here's a near certainty: Burnett will get four years on the open market and possibly five. Braunecker said contract length is only one factor, but he also said a five-year deal is available if Burnett wants it. The Orioles have never signed a free-agent pitcher for longer than three years. Four would be a stretch; five would be a miracle.

If Burnett signs a five-year deal with anyone, he'd be 36 in the final year. No question he is talented – among the most talented in the American League – but he has pitched 200 innings or more only three times in his big league career (he threw a career-high 221 1/3 innings in 2008). Is he worth the long-term risk? It might be the only way you get him.

Daily Think Special: Would you give A.J. Burnett a five-year contract?


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