ESPN’s Keith Law on A.J. Burnett and O’s prospects

If the Orioles make a major run at signing free agent pitcher A.J. Burnett, ESPN’s Keith Law thinks it would be a great move for the team and that he’s likely the best fit for the club among the free agent pitchers.

I spoke with Law on several topics today, including a long interview about his prospect reports this week, which were quite positive on the O’s farm system. I’ll include some of his thoughts here on that and will have some more of his more specific comments on the O’s farm tomorrow morning.

But as for Burnett, who is 26-21 with an ERA of 3.41 over 61 starts for Pittsburgh over the last two seasons, Law said it would be a good move for the Orioles.

“If Burnett were willing to take a one-year deal, and you might get him for $13 or $14 million, he’s worth that, based on his performance the last two years,” Law said. “He’s a good fit and has always had an affinity for Baltimore. I remember they were on him when I was with Toronto and we got him. It’s a market he’d like to play in.

“I think he’d fit what they need without screwing them up in any way for the long term. He’s not going to block anybody. Do you really want to give Ervin Santana $60 or $70 million and have him on the payroll for four years? I don’t think they have any inclination to do something like that.

“Burnett gives them the best chance of a guy that can make a difference. As opposed to (Bronson) Arroyo, who I would not want any part of in the AL East, at any cost.

“With Burnett, that stuff will play in any division. He’s probably a better pitcher at 38 than any point in his career. That would give me some cause for optimism. If it’s got to be a two-year deal, you could do two. But if he would take one year, I’d take him at one year even at a fairly high salary because I’m that confident in his ability to perform, even in that division.”

As for the O’s farm, Law ranked the O’s farm system 10th in baseball this week and also rated five Orioles in his top 100 list of prospects(subscriber-only content), with four pitchers among the sport’s top 43 young players. He rated Kevin Gausman No. 23, Dylan Bundy No. 31, Hunter Harvey No. 38, Eduardo Rodriguez No. 43 and Jonathan Schoop No. 86.

“The biggest thing is they hit on some first-round picks. They are getting guys with some ceiling, too,” Law said. “These aren’t safe picks and are guys that all have a chance to pitch at or near the top of the big league rotation.

“Given the way they seem to be running the major league payroll, they are going to need to do that. They’ll need to generate their own cheap starters and it looks like they are well on their way to doing that.”

Do the O’s have the best group of young pitching prospects in baseball?

“They are on the short list, put it that way,” Law said. “The other teams at the top of the farm system rankings are more balanced between hitters and pitchers. Off the top of my head, Houston would be the other one (with a lot of top young pitchers). I think the Orioles’ front four pitchers, there is no one else close to that, who could match that right now.”

Law sees progress on the O’s farm under Dan Duquette.

“I think the farm system is in better shape now than it’s been since the class of guys a few years ago with (Brian) Matusz, (Zach) Britton and those guys,” he said. “That group graduated and the it got thin. They’ve done a good job restocking it.

“They are much heavier on arms, but given what starting pitching goes for in the free agent market, that is not a bad strategy at all. If you are not going to spend big in the AL East, you better be developing these guys. They’ve done a better job drafting high and hitting on guys under (scouting director Gary) Rajsich, but also the last couple Joe Jordan drafts were better in that regard.

“They’ve done a better job keeping guys healthy. You can’t blame anyone for a player having Tommy John surgery. It seems like they are doing a better job on the player development side too. It’s tough to see what went wrong with that last class of arms. But it does seem like they have better processes in place and I’m a big believer that better processes lead to better results.”

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