Washington Nationals officials met with right-hander A.J. Burnett, the prize of the free agent pitching crop, on Wednesday night in Miami, the first step in what is expected to be a lengthy process of courting the former Florida Marlin.
"It went well," General Manager Jim Bowden said yesterday. "We had a nice discussion. We certainly were impressed with A.J., the type of husband and father and person he is. We really got the feel of him wanting to win a world championship. We feel fortunate that we're one of the teams left on his list."
The Nationals did not extend an offer, nor did the sides discuss terms, Bowden said. Nationals assistant general manager Tony Siegle and special assistant Jose Rijo also joined the dinner, as did Burnett's agent, Darek Braunecker.
Braunecker is seeking a five-year deal, and the fact that the Nationals still don't have an owner would prevent them from making such a commitment. But negotiations with Burnett -- who is receiving interest from several clubs, including Toronto, Boston, Texas and the New York Yankees -- are expected to extend into the winter, by which time Washington's ownership situation could be cleared up.
Burnett underwent elbow surgery in 2003, but his fastball was back in the upper 90s this season -- prompting Nationals Manager Frank Robinson to turn off the radar gun at RFK Stadium during one of Burnett's starts. Still, he is just 49-50 for his career, and he openly criticized Marlins' management late in the season, resulting in a suspension.
On other fronts, Bowden, who is working out of the team's spring training facility in Viera, Fla., is keeping in touch with the agent for free agent outfielder Juan Encarnacion, who also played for the Marlins last year. The Nationals have not yet offered Encarnacion a contract. Encarnacion, who will turn 30 before next season, hit .287 with 16 homers and 76 RBI for Florida in 2005.
Also, the Nationals will unveil an alternate jersey that could be worn in 2006 tomorrow. Right fielder Jose Guillen and reliever Gary Majewski will be at the Modell's Sporting Goods at Springfield Mall beginning at noon, while outfielder Marlon Byrd will be at the Nationals' team store at RFK Stadium at noon.
Bowden, meanwhile, would not comment on his status with the Boston Red Sox, with whom he interviewed last week for their vacant GM's job. A Boston spokesman confirmed, however, that Red Sox President Larry Lucchino plans to call Bowden in the next couple of days to schedule a second interview. Former Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie also is in line for a second interview.
-- Barry Svrluga