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Bronx or Atlanta likely home for Burnett

Burnett's sights on Yanks, Braves

LAS VEGAS -- A.J. Burnett's agent, Darek Braunecker, left the Winter Meetings on Thursday feeling a little more certain about where his prized client will land. But for now, the Braves and Yankees are left to wonder whether they'll have the opportunity to place the veteran right-hander in their starting rotation.

While Braunecker has said a third unidentified team could serve as a potential suitor, it appears the Braves and Yankees are definitely the favorites in the bidding to land Burnett. The Orioles, Red Sox, and Blue Jays all have seemingly fallen out of the mix over the course of this week.

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Once CC Sabathia agreed to accept their seven-year, $160 million offer, the Yankees immediately placed their focus on Burnett, who some consider the second-most appealing starting pitcher on this year's free-agent market.

"We obviously have a need to improve our starting rotation, period," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "It's not just one [starting pitcher] -- it's more than one. My intent this winter is to try to improve the club, obviously any way I can, but the main focus is going to be the rotation."

While having the same need to make significant improvements to his starting rotation, Braves general manager Frank Wren doesn't have the abundance of funds that have provided Cashman with the capability to land both Sabathia and Burnett.

Multiple sources have said the Yankees have provided Burnett with a five-year offer worth $80-85 million. While they haven't done so yet, the Braves have been prepared to provide a similar offer.

Wren met with Braunecker again on Thursday morning and emerged feeling that there's still a chance that he could lure Burnett to Atlanta.

"He's still available and out there," Wren said. "We still feel that we are in the mix."

While the Braves maintain hope, it's obvious that they aren't nearly as confident as they were before the Yankees proved their tremendous level of interest in Burnett.

The Braves fully understand that they can't responsibly get into a prolonged bidding war with the Yankees for a pitcher who has completed 200 innings just three times during his eight full Major League seasons. Making that more alarming is that two of those three instances came during seasons in which he could enter the free-agent market during the ensuing offseason.

But at the same time, the Braves are desperate for an ace, and if they don't land Burnett it will be difficult for them to form the kind of starting rotation that they'd need to prove competitive during the 2009 season.

Looking for positives, the Braves are holding out some hope that Burnett will at least evaluate the statistical benefits he could realize by leaving the American League. But the veteran pitcher has said he likes the AL, and, statistically, he certainly has reason to believe he can prolong the success he enjoyed this past season.

Burnett's stock rose significantly as he notched a career-high 18 wins and recorded an AL-best 231 strikeouts for the Blue Jays this past season. He was at his best down the stretch, going 9-2 with 113 strikeouts and a 2.72 ERA in his final 15 starts -- nine of which came against the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays.

With the Braves, Burnett would find himself as the focus of the starting rotation. But some have said this likely wouldn't be as appealing to him as the opportunity to be just a component of a Yankees rotation that will be showcased by Sabathia.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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