LAS VEGAS -- The expectation is, with CC Sabathia now off the board, the path is cleared for other pitchers to begin signing. And right-handers A.J. Burnett and Derek Lowe are in prime position to move quickly.
Negotiations intensified Wednesday for each of them, according to sources with knowledge of the talks, so much so that either -- or both -- could sign soon.
The New York Yankees are in hard on both, which could make life miserable for the Atlanta Braves where Burnett is concerned. The Braves arrived at these meetings with the intention of doing everything they could to sign the right-hander, according to a person with knowledge of Atlanta's thinking.
But the Yankees are pushing hard enough with a five-year offer, according to a person close to the talks, that it could hike the salary beyond the Braves' capability. Burnett is expected to command somewhere between $16 and $17 million a season, which might result in four years in the $64-$68 million range or five years in the $80-$85 million range.
The Braves were at four years for Burnett and reluctant to go to a fifth year, which could leave Burnett with a decision of whether to take a shorter term deal (four years) worth a little more money per year or a longer term deal (five years) worth a little less money per year but more money overall.
Early Thursday morning, a source with knowledge of the negotiations said that Burnett has reduced the field of interested teams down to three -- the Yankees, the Braves and Toronto.
Burnett exercised his opt-out clause to escape from a five-year, $55 million deal with Toronto at season's end. He was three years and $31 million in at the time.
Darek Braunecker, Burnett's agent, has always believed he could command a five-year deal for Burnett, though the opening bidding started at four years. Braunecker agreed that Sabathia's agreement should break the current logjam, but said he couldn't pinpoint how quickly the market will free up.
"It's hard to say," Braunecker said here Wednesday. "Obviously, that's kind of an important piece to determine what the market will bear and who remains in the mix and where the money could be headed. It's probably beneficial."
With the average annual value (AAV) of the Sabathia contract at $23 million a year, Burnett, Lowe and perhaps Ben Sheets would slot in accordingly. The New York Yankees and Texas have expressed interest in Sheets.
Meantime, even though the Yankees bumped Sabathia's deal up to seven years and $161 million from their original offer of six years and $140 million, the AAV is less. In the six-year offer, it was $23.3 million.
What does that mean? Well, for one thing, the Yankees, according to sources, remain interested in signing two more starting pitchers even after bagging Sabathia. And their resources still seem strong. The Yankees told Braunecker that Sabathia was completely separate from Burnett, who will turn 32 next month, and that one was not related to the other in negotiations.
"We've known all along that they intended to sign CC and another pitcher," Braunecker said. "The deals were always independent of each other."
Meantime, Atlanta was far down the path in talks with Burnett before Wednesday afternoon, when the Braves believe the Yankees increased their offer to five years.
Could there be a resolution with Burnett by, say, the end of the night?
"Anything is possible if the right deal presents itself," Braunecker said.
Lowe, aside from the Yankees, is being courted by Philadelphia and the New York Mets, and if they fail to land Burnett, the Braves could turn their attention Lowe's way. Boston also has expressed interest in Lowe, but the Red Sox right now have other priorities.
Lowe, 35, has some interest in returning to Boston, said a source with knowledge of his thinking, but it is not a priority for him. Meantime, despite the Los Angeles Dodgers' casting about for starting pitching, Lowe has no interest in returning there.
Regarding whether Sabathia's arrival would make the Yankees more attractive for Lowe or any other player, Scott Boras, his agent, said, "I think it gives payers more of a road map as to where the Yankees are going. If I was a baseball player and one team had CC Sabathia on it, that would be very welcome."