Pretend you're Larry Beinfest for the day (or the next month - up until the trade deadline): What do you do with A.J. Burnett?
If A.J. stays healthy and continues to pitch like he has this season, he's likely to command a salary in the $8 - $10 million per year neighborhood (for four or so years). He is 28 (turns 29 in January) and has had arm issues in the past. He's thrown 200 innings only once (2002). Over his career (entering this season) his ERA has been 9% lower than the league average.
Trade rumors - mainly involving the Orioles, currently - abound. There are so many that I'm not even going to bother linking to any, as the current rumor is likely different from whatever I might find to link to.
Do you keep A.J.? If you keep him around in hopes of a playoff push, do you plan to retain him for 2006 and beyond? If A.J. stays, who else goes? For Burnett's asking price you can probably pick up the likes of an Easley, Jones, and Conine/Encarnacion - plus have some money left over.
If you trade A.J. now, you'll likely get some "parts" that can turn into key contributors down the line. While he's due to become a free agent after the season, other teams that are in the race will pay to acquire him this year because there just aren't that many guys who can throw in the triple digits, with command, and locate breaking pitches.
If you keep A.J. and lose him in the offseason as a free agent, you'll get some draft picks. But there's no telling if that pick will turn into Josh Beckett or Josh Hamilton (who was picked one slot ahead of Beckett).
I'd trade A.J. - especially if I could find a deal that helps the Marlins to compete in 2005 and also brings in prospects that can contribute in the future. A.J.'s asking price is going to be too high as a free agent this offseason (at least in terms of the risk the Marlins can bear given his injury history). Besides, if they trade him and his asking price comes down, the Marlins will have a shot at him in free agency.
So what do you do? I'd use a poll here, but this requires more than just a poll. Possibilities include: trading A.J., keeping him with the intent of signing him, offering him a long-term deal right now to gauge his interest in staying in Florida, and keeping him for a 2005 playoff push with the intention of letting him walk after the season.