Originally created 02/20/03

Burnett loses in arbitration, settles for $2.5 million



JUPITER, Fla. -- Florida Marlins ace A.J. Burnett pretended he was hurting for cash Wednesday after losing baseball's final arbitration case of the year.

"Buy me dinner," Burnett joked.

He's hardly headed for the poorhouse. Burnett will make $2.5 million this season, a 580 percent increase over last year's salary of $367,500.

Burnett, who led the major leagues last season with five shutouts, had sought $3,075,000.

"We had a good case. They had a good case," he said. "Obviously it was a coin toss."

Actually, players have better odds in a coin toss than in arbitration. Owners won five of seven cases this year, giving them a winning record for the seventh year in a row. Teams have a 259-194 record since arbitration began in 1974.

The Marlins won two of their three arbitration cases this winter. Reliever Vladimir Nunez lost, and starting pitcher Mark Redman won.

General manager Larry Beinfest saved any celebrating for private.

"We are very happy the process is over, and we're ready to move on," he said.

Manager Jeff Torborg offered Burnett some consolation, saying the right-hander will likely start on opening day for the first time.

Last week Burnett said his arbitration case had become personal, and he complained that the Marlins made no effort to reach a last-minute settlement. He backtracked a bit Wednesday, admitting that the five-hour hearing Tuesday was more civil that he anticipated.

"I went in expecting to get bashed," he said. "They made points on the negative side but overall I didn't think it was that bad. ... There's no bitterness. I don't hold grudges."

But Burnett, 26, betrayed lingering annoyance on the subject of a multiyear deal. The Marlins have declined to discuss such a contract with Burnett, and he said he'd be reluctant to consider one down the road.

"Any deal in the future, they've more than likely lost that," he said.

However, Burnett also said he hopes to stay with Florida. He faces two more years of arbitration before he'll be eligible for free agency.

Burnett, who missed the first two days of spring training workouts, joined the team for Wednesday's drills and was on the field when he learned of the arbitration ruling.

"I'm making a good amount and got a good raise," he said. "Now it's time to perform."

Torborg plans to make Burnett the seventh pitcher to start an opening day for the Marlins in their 11-year history. The first game is March 31 in Miami against Philadelphia.

"A.J. certainly deserves to be out there," Torborg said.

"That's a cool honor," Burnett said.

Burnett led the Marlins in victories last year, when he when 12-9 with a 3.30 ERA, seven complete games and 203 strikeouts in 204 1-3 innings. But the Marlins noted in the arbitration hearing that he has been on the disabled list each of the past three seasons with thumb, foot and elbow injuries.

Burnett said he expects to go to arbitration again a year from now, and he knows what he needs to do to win next time.

"If I stay healthy," he said, "I'll get what I deserve."