Florida Marlins right-hander A.J. Burnett, perhaps the most talented pitcher available on the free agent market in this coming offseason, said Monday he would strongly consider signing with the Washington Nationals.

"Absolutely, I'd consider them," he said. "I'm going to consider a lot of teams out there. But it makes a difference that there's a team out there that I respect, with ballplayers and a manager that I respect."

On Monday, the Marlin essentially kicked him off the team for the rest of the season, and his career in Florida is almost certainly over. After a loss in Atlanta on Sunday, Burnett ripped the Marlins, with whom he has spent his entire major league career, as fostering a "depressing" and "negative" environment. Those remarks led to the situation in which Burnett will miss his last scheduled start.

He is 12-12 with a 3.44 ERA and 198 strikeouts. Yet when the Marlins needed him most in the drive for the playoffs, he went 0-6 with a 5.87 ERA since Aug. 24.

In seven seasons, he is 49-50 with a 3.73 ERA. Reconstructive elbow surgery cost him most of the 2003 season, yet he is highly regarded because of his raw stuff, including a fastball that reaches the high nineties.

Burnett's wife, Karen, is from Annapolis, and he said being able to settle near family could be a factor in his decision. "I'd consider going and playing there and raising my family," he said. "It definitely would help out with the family situation.

"I always said that would be a good team if they ever got out of Montreal. They've got some fans now, they've got a good ballpark to play in, and they're a good group of guys. I think it would be a good situation."

The Nationals are likely to pursue two starters, and Burnett and Cleveland's Kevin Millwood (9-11, 2.92) are strong candidates if the current management structure stays in place.

Game Time Changed

The Nationals' penultimate game of the season on Saturday against the Philadelphia Phillies has been moved to 4:10 p.m. at RFK Stadium because Fox has picked it up for broadcast nationally. The game was originally scheduled for 7:05 p.m.