Burnitz finalizes Pirates deal; Orioles miffed

Updated: January 4, 2006, 8:30 PM ET
Associated Press

PITTSBURGH -- Jeromy Burnitz finalized his $6.7 million, one-year contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates after taking a physical Wednesday, but only after the unhappy Baltimore Orioles said the outfielder's agent backed out of a two-year deal.

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Burnitz's Pirates contract calls for a $6 million salary this year and a $6 million mutual option for 2007 with a $700,000 buyout if the team declines its option. Baltimore thought Burnitz had agreed to a $12 million, two-year contract with the Orioles last week.

"My feeling is we had an agreement," Orioles vice president of baseball operations Jim Duquette said Wednesday. "Obviously, the agent didn't feel we did. My personal feeling is it sets a bad precedent when that's allowed to happen."

Burnitz never took the physical called for in that agreement. Burnitz's agent, Howard Simon, said that language regarding the physical resulted in the breakdown of Baltimore's deal.

"There was harsh, intimidating language that appears to be very subjective and open-ended. ... The club almost has the right to do whatever it wants, at its option," Simon said. "That's how complicated the language is. The other clubs simply have one line that states it is subject to the player passing a physical. That's what Pittsburgh's document has."

Because of the contract language, Burnitz and Simon apparently felt the Orioles could have delayed completing the deal for as long as they wanted after the physical -- even while shopping for other players, such as Red Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez.

Duquette thinks Burnitz simply had a change of heart. An Orioles official he didn't identify spoke with Burnitz last weekend.

"We got hold of the player, and the player said he had a change of heart and for family reasons wanted to play in the National League because of the trips to San Diego and Los Angeles, which are close to home," Duquette said. "I'll believe that over the other one."

Duquette said that in 15 years of negotiating contracts he has never had a player not finalize a deal because of the language concerning the physical.

"I'll believe what the player said and give him the benefit of the doubt," Duquette said.

Simon is unhappy that the Orioles are trying to paint Burnitz as the villain and said the ballclub broke an agreement that neither side would disclose the signing until the contract was finalized.

"I stuck to my end of it and if they had, they wouldn't be wearing so much egg on their face," Simon said. "There is never a deal until it's done, and done means everything, all the terms and conditions have to be agreed up, not just some of them. I'm not looking to throw darts, but the fact of the matter is it's really a Baltimore problem."

Duquette said, "A lot of agents don't sign term sheets. They just say, 'We have an agreement, get on a plane and go take a physical.'"

The Pirates wound up with Burnitz a year after actively pursuing him, only to have him sign with the Cubs. But Simon said Burnitz remembered how Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield made an aggressive push for him last season.

"We need to score more runs, and he can be a big part of that," Littlefield said.

Burnitz is the third veteran position player added by the Pirates during the offseason, joining first baseman Sean Casey and third baseman Joe Randa. Burnitz's acquisition could push outfielder-first baseman Craig Wilson back to the bench followed an injury-filled 2005 season in which two hand injuries limited him to five homers in 197 at-bats. Wilson had a team-high 29 homers in 2004.

Burnitz can make $250,000 each year in performance bonuses: $50,000 for 140 games played and $100,000 each for 150 and 155 games.

Burnitz, who turns 37 in April, played in 150 games in 2004 with the Rockies and 160 games last season for the Cubs, when he hit 24 homers and drove in 87 runs. He has 92 homers while playing for four clubs over the last three seasons, and has three homers in 92 career at-bats in PNC Park.

To make room for Burnitz on their 40-man roster, the Pirates designated infielder J.J. Furmaniak for assignment.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press