Burnett clarifies remarks about leaving
Righty says he's not asking for trade in wake of news story
TORONTO -- The trade winds have hardly started to blow around baseball, it being only the third week in June. Even so, pitcher A.J. Burnett caused a minor stir at Rogers Centre on Sunday by giving an honest answer to a question about his future in Toronto.
Burnett, who will undoubtedly have his name floated around the July 31 trade deadline, was asked if he'd be open to a trade to the Chicago Cubs -- a club that could be in the market for pitching. Instead of hiding his thoughts, Burnett offered what he thought an understandable reply.
"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," Burnett was quoted as saying in Sunday's Chicago Sun-Times. "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."
It's been well-documented that Burnett has a clause in his contract that allows him the ability to opt out of his deal in order to become a free agent after this season. He inked a five-year, $55 million deal with Toronto prior to the 2006 season and is owed $12 million this year -- and in each of the next two seasons -- if he elects to stay with the Jays.
"I have an opt out in my contract," Burnett said. "So people are going to have their own opinion on that. Everybody's talking about me opting out, but nobody's talking about me staying. There's a 100-percent chance of that as well."
Considering his situation, Burnett's future has been a hot topic since he signed, and he knows that will continue to be the case. With Toronto struggling and Burnett's opt-out decision looming, there's a chance the Jays might entertain offers for the 31-year-old pitcher.
Knowing that's likely the case, Burnett made his comments to the Chicago newspaper. Following Sunday's game, he wanted to make sure he clarified that he wasn't implying that he desired to be traded. Burnett wanted to make it clear that his focus remains on the Blue Jays.
"My focus is toward this team and helping this team win," Burnett said. "Everything else is out of my control. Who would not want to play for the Cubs? That's the bottom line. I did say that my focus and my loyalty right now is with the Toronto Blue Jays and, until I'm told otherwise, it'll stay that way."
Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi declined to comment on Burnett's remarks and manager John Gibbons limited his response, saying only, "I've got nothing to say to that." That didn't stop Burnett's quote from making its way around the Jays' clubhouse.
"Obviously, he knows his situation," Jays center fielder Vernon Wells said. "He knows that he can opt out at the end of the year, obviously, 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 bit about it today."
Wells was quick to dismiss the possibility that Burnett's teammates would be bothered by the pitcher's comments.
"He said he wouldn't mind playing for a first-place team," Wells said. "Obviously, Chicago is a great city, but 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."
Blue Jays fans might question whether Burnett was somehow insulting the city of Toronto by saying he'd like to play in a "place where baseball is breakfast, lunch and dinner." Burnett said he was merely describing the atmosphere surrounding the Cubs.
"That's just how it is there," Burnett said. "It's nothing against Toronto -- that's just how it is in Chicago."
Burnett added that he wasn't worried about the fans' reaction to his comments, pointing out again that he's been careful to say that he remains loyal to the Jays.
"I don't really care how the fans take it," he said. "If they can't read the part that I said where I'm at right 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."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.