Burnett to start Sunday on short rest
Right-hander to replace reliever Tallet going for McGowan
TORONTO -- Any scouts interested in seeing how A.J. Burnett matches up against the Yankees might want to adjust their travel plans. The Blue Jays have altered their rotation, giving Burnett the nod to start against New York on Sunday.
It's a move that Toronto believes can help the club win the three-game set against New York, but it's one that comes amidst trade rumors involving Burnett, as well. That being the case, having Burnett start against the potent Yankees' lineup on just three days' rest could be seen as a way to showcase the pitcher to interested teams.
"People can think whatever they want to think," Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said. "He's pitching on Sunday, which I think is good."
Originally, after placing Dustin McGowan on the disabled list with a right shoulder injury on Wednesday, the Jays planned on sending left-handed reliever Brian Tallet to the hill for a spot start in Toronto's final game of the first half. Prior to Friday's opener against the Yankees, Toronto announced the switch.
The Jays had already considered having Burnett skip his side session and making him available out of the bullpen on Sunday. Instead, Toronto approached Burnett, who logged 112 pitches in a start on Wednesday, about possibly starting on short rest and the pitcher had no issues with the decision.
"We asked him and he was fine," Ricciardi said. "He said, 'Yeah, I'd love to go.' I think all the guys are trying to put their best foot forward, and he knows we're a little short-handed. I thought it was great that he stepped up."
How many more starts Burnett will make for the Blue Jays this season remains an unanswered question, though. Even with McGowan sidelined for at least a month -- and likely longer -- Ricciardi said Toronto wouldn't hesitate to deal Burnett before the July 31 deadline, should the right offer come along.
"I don't think McGowan affects anything," Ricciardi said. "If we're going to do anything, we're going to do what helps out club. We've got [David] Purcey, who can come up [from Triple-A] and pitch, but we have absolutely nothing going in the way of a trade.
"We're not looking to trade anybody right now and we have no conversations going with anybody in that regard."
Multiple reports have indicated that the Philadelphia Phillies have interest in Burnett and have had talks with the Blue Jays. Toronto assistant general manager Tony LaCava -- one of Ricciardi's top advisors -- has even been spotted in Reading, Pa., scouting the Phillies' Double-A team.
While Ricciardi didn't confirm that he'd discussed Burnett with the Phillies, Toronto's GM didn't dismiss the possibility, either.
"We have nothing to report on that," Ricciardi said.
After the Indians shipped left-hander CC Sabathia to the Brewers and right-hander Rich Harden was dealt by the A's to the Cubs, Burnett became arguably the top arm deemed available on the trade market. The Dodgers are also rumored to be interested in the Toronto right-hander.
If the Jays did decide to trade Burnett, the club would likely summon Purcey from Triple-A Syracuse to take an extended look at the left-hander. Purcey, who has made two spot starts for Toronto this season, is 7-6 with a 2.77 ERA and 107 strikeouts over 104 innings in 17 outings with the Chiefs this year.
"I just don't want to spot start him," Ricciardi said of Purcey. "He's deserving of more than one start. He's had a great year in Triple-A, so to run him up for one start, if we bring him up, I think I'd like to have him for more than one start."
Burnett, who can reportedly veto trades to 15 teams, is the target of much discussion, mainly due to his contract situation. When Burnett inked a five-year deal worth $55 million with the Jays prior to the 2006 season, he was given the ability to opt out of the contract after this season.
If Burnett remained with Toronto through the remainder of this season and decided to opt out, leaving $24 million on the table, the Jays would receive two first-round picks in next June's First-Year Player Draft. Even if dealt before the deadline, Burnett can elect to walk away from his deal to test free agency.
On June 14, Burnett didn't do himself any favors, admitting to a reporter from Chicago that he'd accept a trade to a contending team like the Cubs "with open arms." Since making that comment, which caused a stir in Toronto, Burnett has been charged with at least seven runs in three of his five outings.
Burnett is 9-8 with a 5.23 ERA through 20 appearances, including 19 starts, this season for the Blue Jays. Entering Friday, his 118 strikeouts were the second-highest total in the American League. Burnett features an overpowering fastball and a strong curve that would be attractive to contending clubs.
"We're going to listen to anyone who calls on any of our players," Ricciardi said. "For us to say that we're not going to trade anybody, I think, is crazy."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.