A.J. Burnett has told reporters and fans alike that his off-season decision will be between a return to the Pittsburgh Pirates or retirement and time with his family. He is still making his final decision, but perhaps these five questions will help him out:
1. Do I want to end my career getting rocked? – A.J. Burnett is a gamer. Pirates fans and perhaps opponents even more so, are aware of his intensity and wanting to stay in games. Burnett’s last start was a rout against the St. Louis Cardinals. He was passed over in the fifth and final game of the NLDS. Burnett, being the competitor he is, had to be upset at the decision and there were reports that he did not take it well. Burnett has experienced a resurgence in his two seasons with the Pirates and although pitching coach Ray Searage gives his players the credit, it is obvious how huge his role has been. Burnett’s bad start against the Cardinals was his second disaster in as many years in St. Louis, and he can use it as fuel to the off-season fire.
2. Do I want to go through the familiar offseason grind? – Let’s face it, building a post-season routine can be hard. It is easy to cheat and the team is not around you every day as they are during the season. Burnett will be 37 before pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training in March. His first full regular season was with the Florida Marlins occurred in 2001, although he had been in the major leagues since 1999. This means he has played 12 full seasons already and as we all know 37 in baseball is “getting up there.” It can take a lot more to be motivated having experienced the offseason grind so much. It can be tiresome and Burnett has a family now and could easily decide that baseball is no longer worth the blood, sweat and tears.
3. Do I want another chance at a ring? – His decision once again comes down to the Pirates or retirement. The Pirates had a lot go right in regards to making the playoffs and ending a 20-year string of sub-.500 seasons. The Pirates could easily make another run into the playoffs and if the offense becomes more consistent, look out. Should Burnett return to the Pirates a rotation with him, Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton, Gerrit Cole and a potentially healthy Wandy Rodriguez would be a huge threat. The pieces are in place to the point that this past season was not a one year wonder.
4. How loyal am I to Pittsburgh? – It is obvious how much the fans love Burnett. He gets standing ovations after many of his starts. Burnett essentially represents everything Pittsburgh wants to be: hardworking, blue-collar and reluctant to go down without a fight. Pirates fans have always responded well to these kinds of players. The feeling is mutual with Burnett and you can tell how sincere he is. He loves going to work everyday, especially when at PNC Park. Burnett is not afraid to challenge the fans as he did in September when he wanted more fans to attend. What was the result? More fans showed up, what a surprise. Many fans started their relationship with Burnett with an eye patch after a bunting injury in March 2012, but Pittsburgh loves its winners and this right-handed pitcher definitely is that.
5. Can I help a young team continue to grow? – Burnett has been a locker room leader and a fearless one at that. Nothing seems to faze him and he obviously is unafraid to voice his opinion on issues. While at times his rebellious side has let him down, Burnett has been a workhorse throwing 388 1/3 innings the past two years while striking out 389. He has led by example and many look to him to help them out. Burnett has also taken pitchers under his wing in Cole and Jeff Locke and each succeeded in many different degrees. Burnett embraces the leadership role and truly seems to enjoy it. He has helped transform young players who may have doubted themselves. The Pirates are now believing in themselves; however, perhaps another year of Burnett will help them become more confident as a team.
My Verdict: I feel as though the Pirates should sign Burnett for one last season. After that it will be time to cut ties or allow him to retire. The projected pitching staff for next season could truly be something special that Pirates fans are not used to seeing. Burnett can continue to challenge the players and allow players such as Jameson Taillon a little bit more time to grow and prepare for a bigger role. You know exactly what you are going to get with Burnett, while a replacement such as a Josh Johnson or Tim Hudson come with recent injury baggage that could cost you in more ways than one.