The St. Louis Post Dispatch’s Joe Stauss reports the Cardinals have offered free agent pitcher A.J. Burnett a 4 year, $40 million contract.

The Cardinals’ bid is believed to include an option for 2010. The proposal represents a significant break from the organizational philosophy under current ownership. Burnett is the first starting pitcher to command a four-year bid since a group headed by Bill DeWitt Jr. purchased the club in March 1996.

The Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners and New York Mets also are believed to be competing for Burnett. The Blue Jays reportedly offered Burnett a five-year deal worth about $50 million, leaving the club unsure if geographical factors and emotional ties may help their case. Burnett grew up a Cardinals fan.

Guaranteeing a fifth year was considered vital to any team’s chances of landing Burnett, a hard-throwing righthander who has spent his career with the Florida Marlins. For the Cardinals, such a commitment was too much, leaving some within the organization unsure about the team’s chances.

Significant debate took place before the club tendered a four-year offer that represents the most lucrative ever made by the Cardinals for any pitcher. DeWitt finally gave his blessing Wednesday, and the offer was made.