Blue Jays' Burnett defends trade comments
Vernon Wells had a talk with A.J. Burnett on Sunday morning after the right-hander suggested to a Chicago newspaper that he'd welcome a trade to the Cubs, and came away convinced the pitcher's loyalty lies with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Others, however, may not be as sure after a minor controversy erupted around the flame-thrower who has an opt-out clause in his contract that kicks in at the end of the season. While general manager J.P. Ricciardi and manager John Gibbons declined to weigh in on Burnett's comments, there were some who wondered if he was pulling the plug on the team.
"I don't know if that's the case," said Wells. "Obviously he knows the situation, he knows he can opt out at the end of the year and he's a grown man, he can say what he wants to say, and all we care about is if he's still loyal to this team, which I know he is.
"We talked a little about it today, and (if) he goes out and does his job every fifth day there won't be any problems."
Burnett suggested people read the comments he made to the Chicago Sun-Times carefully before getting too excited. The Cubs are believed to be in the market for a starter as the trade deadline nears and he was asked how he'd feel about going to Chicago.
"As of right now I'm a Blue Jay, and I'm going to pitch to the best of my ability as long as I'm part of this club," he told the paper. "But if something were to happen and I'd have the opportunity to go to a place where baseball is breakfast, lunch and dinner, that would be awesome.
"Right now my focus is with this club, but if something like that were to happen, I'd accept it with open arms."
In the subsequent discussion with Toronto media, Burnett insisted he had done nothing wrong and had underlined his loyalty to the Blue Jays to the paper.
"What I said is that my focus and my intent right now is on the Toronto Blue Jays and my focus is on this team and helping this team win," he said. "Everything else is out of my control and who would not want to play for the Cubs, bottom line.
"But whatever was said, whether I said it or not, I did say my focus and my loyalty right now is to the Toronto Blue Jays until otherwise. And it will stay that way. I'm pitching for this team, not for them and not for anyone else."
Asked if he was concerned about how fans would interpret his comments, he replied: "I don't really care (how) the fans take it. If they can't read the part that I said where I'm at now in my mind, then whatever. I'm a Blue Jay now and I'm a Blue Jay until they tell me otherwise. I'm proud of that...
"I have an option in my contract so people are going to have their own opinion on that. Everybody's talking about me opting out, nobody's talking about me staying. There's a 100 per cent chance of that just as well."
Burnett's opt-out clause, part of the $55-million US, five-year deal he signed with the Blue Jays after the 2005 season, has been an issue under the surface all season.
There is wide speculation Ricciardi plans to shop him before the trade deadline, but the Blue Jays want more than two top prospects to make a deal. Should Burnett opt out and sign elsewhere, they would get two high draft picks as compensation.
Burnett has two more seasons and $24 million left on his contract after this one. He has been true to form since joining the Blue Jays, going 26-22 with a 4.09 earned-run average.
This season, he's 6-6 with a 4.90 ERA in 14 starts.
Wells doesn't expect Burnett's comments to become an issue.
"He knows what his job is, his job is to pitch for us and he answered a question truthfully I guess and he's going to have to answer questions about it," said Wells.
"He seemed shocked when he talked about it to me. Whatever, you say things, there's been a lot worse things said by teammates I've been with than that. He'll do his job when he gets on the mound and hopefully it's as a Blue Jay for the next few years."