On the Burnett-to-D.C. rumors, plus Kimball note

A couple of weeks ago, A.J. Burnett wasn’t sure whether he wanted to pitch in 2014.

Now, Burnett’s decision on what uniform he’ll be wearing this upcoming season has become one of the main storylines remaining as we work up toward spring training. And the Nationals are being mentioned as one potential landing spot for the 37-year-old right-hander.

Burnett, who posted a 3.30 ERA and 209 strikeouts in 191 innings for the Pirates last season, has reportedly drawn interest from a few teams this offseason, including the Orioles and Phillies. The Pirates are also very interested in bringing Burnett back for one more year.

My MASNsports.com colleague Roch Kubatko reported yesterday that Burnett is unlikely to sign with the O’s because he’d rather remain in the National League, and Comcast SportsNet reported that the Phillies are not looking like a logical landing spot for Burnett, as well. That appears to leave the Pirates as the main suitors for Burnett at this point.

But could the Nats sneak in and sign Burnett, bolstering a starting rotation that many already feel is the best in the majors?

CBSsports.com’s Jon Heyman wrote a piece yesterday asking that exact question, and it has stirred things up among some Nats fans. Heyman wasn’t reporting anything of substance when it comes to Burnett and the Nats, just saying that “speculation is going around baseball circles” that the Nats could consider jumping into the Burnett sweepstakes.

I haven’t heard anything substantive on Burnett and the Nationals to this point, but the reasons why some are linking the team to the veteran righty are clear.

The Nats have shown a willingness to make a late splash in the days and weeks leading up to spring training in recent years, as they signed right-hander Edwin Jackson late in the offseason before the 2012 campaign and added closer Rafael Soriano less than a month before spring training started last year. When many teams are getting ready to start passing out the jerseys for spring, Nats general manager Mike Rizzo is scouring the free agent market looking for quality value in players who have still not been signed.

As a resident of Monkton, Md., Burnett also has an affinity for the D.C./Maryland area, which could play into the Nats’ hands. If Burnett is interested in pitching in the NL, as Kubatko reports, and he wants to remain close to his offseason home, then the Nats could certainly be a possible landing spot.

In addition, while the Nationals’ payroll has risen this offseason and will be north of $120 million come opening day, they aren’t thought to be on any tight budgetary restraints. In other words, giving Burnett $14 million for this season is certainly a possibility.

Should the Nats sign Burnett, they would have a loaded rotation featuring Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Burnett. Ross Detwiler would then be pushed to the bullpen, where he could serve as a second left-hander in relief behind Jerry Blevins.

Adding Burnett would certainly appear to make the Nats a better team, although we’ve been here before when it comes to the Nationals signing veteran starters who are supposed to round out the rotation and provide a quality presence in the No. 4 or No. 5 spot. Jackson didn’t bomb in his time with the Nats, but his signing didn’t pan out as expected, and Dan Haren certainly didn’t provide what the Nats hoped he would last season.

Again, nothing linking the Nats to Burnett has been substantive to this point, and we’re merely dealing with yet another offseason rumor. But if the Nats want to make another splash late in free agency, Burnett is an option.

On another note, former Nationals reliever Cole Kimball has signed a minor league deal with the Yankees, according to Baseball America.

The hard-throwing Kimball had a strong big league debut with the Nats in 2011, posting a 1.93 ERA in 14 innings, but he struggled with injuries the last couple of seasons and was unable to make it back to the majors. A 12th-round pick of the Nats back in 2006, Kimball appeared in just 25 games last year, putting up a 7.31 ERA between the Gulf Coast League Nationals and Triple-A Syracuse.

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