Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington recently sat down with Post-Gazette columnist Ron Cook for a discussion on the offseason. Cook reported Sunday that much of the conversation revolved around the indecision of free-agent pitcher A.J. Burnett.
Burnett, who will be 37 by Opening Day 2014, initially said he would take a couple weeks after the season to decide if he will return for his 16th MLB season. Now, two months after the Pirates were eliminated by the Cardinals in the National League Division Series, Burnett has yet to make a call.
Huntington told Cook that Burnett’s wavering hasn’t prevented the Pirates from engaging in free-agent and trade discussions, although the Bucs’ relative inactivity over the past several weeks could speak otherwise. Considering the Pirates declined to pay the standard qualifying offer (about $14 million) to Burnett, it stands to reason that signing him would take up a significant portion of the room under their budget.
As one would imagine, Huntington mentioned the Pirates have a “Plan B” for their starting rotation sans Burnett, which would include Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton, Gerrit Cole and potentially Stolmy Pimentel and/or Brandon Cumpton. Promising prospects Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham were also brought up.
One thing Huntington immediately dismissed is the recent report the Pirates were interested in trading multiple youngsters for Rays ace David Price. The Pittsburgh GM told Cook that Price’s price – both literal and in terms of what it would take to acquire him for the next two years – prohibits that glamorous option.
“That’s not just Pittsburgh-centric. There are a lot fewer clubs that can play at the top of the market than clubs that can’t. We just can’t afford to do ‘X.’ Well, we could, but then how would we build a championship-caliber club around that one player?”
If you thought the Pirates might be more willing to spend following a playoff season, that statement should discourage the notion. Perhaps next year’s expected increased ticket sales could change things, but for this offseason it’ll be the same bargain-hunting strategy that Huntington has employed since arriving in Pittsburgh six years ago.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as Huntington has refined his methods to an impressive degree. Still, it’s a harsh reminder that the Pirates will never be in the top half of MLB in terms of revenue.