- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Washington Nationals met with free-agent pitcher A.J. Burnett on Wednesday night in Miami, and though no formal contract offer was made, general manager Jim Bowden emerged believing his club has a realistic shot at signing the coveted right-hander.

“I thought it went well,” said Bowden, who along with assistants Tony Siegle, Bob Boone and Jose Rijo had dinner with Burnett and agent Darek Braunecker. “We had a good, frank discussion and got to know each other, and certainly we’re impressed by him. We really strongly believe that with him, Livan Hernandez and John Patterson [in the rotation], we’d accomplish a major offseason goal.”

Perhaps the prize product of the free-agent market, Burnett is going to command a huge contract. Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi yesterday told the Associated Press the Blue Jays plan to make an offer and it’s believed at least two clubs already have offered him five-year deals for as much as $50 million, which would make him the highest-paid player on the Nationals’ roster.

That’s a lot of money for a 28-year-old pitcher whose career record is a pedestrian 49-50 and who late last season was sent home by the Florida Marlins for disparaging remarks he made about former manager Jack McKeon.

At the time of the incident, Bowden expressed reservations about Burnett, but he said his opinion has changed drastically since meeting the right-hander this week.

“No question. We’re very impressed by him,” Bowden said. “I’ve been around a lot of starting pitchers in this game, and he certainly ranks right up there. With the stuff he has, as he continues to mature, I don’t see any reason why this guy is not going to be a 15-game winner for the next several years.”

If Burnett ultimately decides he’s serious about Washington, Bowden said he’d like to bring the pitcher and his wife (who is from Annapolis) to town and give him a tour. At that point, the Nationals would make a formal contract offer.

Braunecker did not return messages left for him yesterday.

Bowden said he continues to hold trade talks with several clubs. He expects those to heat up at next month’s winter meetings in Dallas.

Meanwhile, Bowden has been granted a second interview with the Boston Red Sox for their vacant GM position, baseball sources said. Bowden previously met with Red Sox officials last week at the GM meetings in Indian Wells, Calif. At the moment, he and former Baltimore Orioles vice president Jim Beattie are the only publicly known candidates for the Boston job, though it’s believed the Red Sox have been talking privately to other candidates.

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