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Tuesday's topic: Which free agent pitcher would you rather sign: AJ Burnett or Derek Lowe?
The Case for BurnettEverybody in baseball loves a big arm, and there are few arms bigger than Burnett's. He led the American League this year with 231 strikeouts. And with 8.36 strikeouts per nine innings in his career, he's 19th on the all-time list (among pitchers with at least 1,000 career innings). This year he was just a horse, tying for the major league lead with 34 starts and winning 18 of them. Burnett, who turns 32 on Jan. 3, figures to still be pitching -- and still throwing hard -- for years after his new contract expires. Meanwhile, Lowe turns 36 next summer, all the more concerning because his agent has been talking about a six-year contract. One of the frequent problems with free agents is that by the time you get them, they've already given their best years to the game. But if Burnett is past his prime, it's not by much.
The Case for LoweBurnett may have been a horse this year, but Lowe is a horse every year. Over the past five seasons he has started 168 games; only Greg Maddux and Brandon Webb, with 169 apiece, have started more. And Burnett? He has made 131 starts over the same five seasons, tied for 50th in the majors. While Burnett did start 34 games this year, it was just the second time in his career that he had topped 30. It's also worth noting that prior to this year, Burnett had never won more than a dozen games in a season; meanwhile, Lowe has won at least 12 games in each of the past seven seasons. He may be a few years older than Burnett, but Lowe has shown no signs of slowing down, and healthy pitchers who rely on hard sinkers have generally aged gracefully.
The VerdictThis is a tough one. Year in, year out, Lowe's performance trumps Burnett's. But Lowe is significantly older, and his performance wouldn't look quite as impressive if he had spent these past four years in the American League, like Burnett has. As always, the devil is in the details; regardless of your projections, you'd rather sign Burnett for one year than Lowe for 10 years. But if I could sign just one of them for, say, five years, I would sign Lowe because I think I know what I'd be getting for most of those five years. With Burnett, I just wouldn't know.
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