Nationals Rumors: Nats Late Entrant In A.J. Burnett Market?

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman speculated this afternoon that the Washington Nationals might get involved in the market for 37-year-old right-handed veteran A.J. Burnett, who pondered retirement this winter, but decided to return for a 16th major league campaign.

Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo told MLB Network Hot Stove hosts Harold Reynolds and Matt Vasgersian last month that he wasn't ruling out adding value if they could find it at this point in the winter. Rizzo was responding to a question about interest in reliever Grant Balfour, who eventually signed with Tampa Bay, but the general manager summed up the overall state of the Nationals' search as Spring Training approaches.

"At this time of the year," Rizzo said, "we're looking at any way to improve our ballclub and sometimes you get some values at this time of the year. We're looking at any way to either strengthen a weakness that we have... but if you can strengthen a strength, that never hurts either."

"If you can find a value and improve your ballclub, strengthen a strength, we're all for it." - Mike Rizzo on the MLB Network, January 2014

"If you can find a value and improve your ballclub, strengthen a strength, we're all for it," Rizzo concluded.

CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman wrote today that a source told him the Nats are seen as a team that, "could emerge as a possibility," for a free agent pitcher that could strengthen an already strong rotation.

"Though a person with a Nats connection suggested they'd 'most likely' stick with their current rotation unless a 'value' materialized," Heyman wrote, "Washington should never be counted out of the mix for another starting pitcher."

The pitcher in particular Heyman speculates about is veteran right-hander A.J. Burnett:

"Speculation is going around baseball circles that the Nats could consider a late play for the talented Burnett at a time some other would-be contenders seem to be fading away."

As the CBSSports.com reporter suggests, if the Nationals sign Burnett, they could also fill a need in their bullpen by adding another left-hander to the mix among their relievers:

"The Nationals have Ross Detwiler as their No. 5 starter, but it's possible he could be moved to the bullpen; the Nats have been seeking a lefty for their pen."

Burnett, 37, pondered retirement this winter, but decided to return to the mound in 2014.

Last season with Pittsburgh, in his second year with the Pirates, the veteran of 15 major league seasons was (10-11) with a 3.30 ERA, 2.80 FIP, 67 walks (3.16 BB/9) and 209 Ks (9.85 K/9) in 30 starts and 191 IP over which he was worth +4.0 fWAR.

The Pirates didn't make a qualifying offer to Burnett, who made $16.5M in 2013, in the final year of the 5-year/$82.5M deal he signed with the New York Yankees in 2008, so the team that signs him won't have to surrender a draft pick.

Will Nats' GM Mike Rizzo make another late-January addition to the roster? Would Burnett, who lives in Maryland, consider signing on to join a rotation that already includes Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister?

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