The latest update on the 37-year-old free-agent righty comes courtesy of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review‘s Travis Sawchik, who tweeted out this tasty bit of news Tuesday afternoon:
A.J. Burnett will return to pitch in ’14, per source. Burnett will be open to pitching for a club other than the Pirates
— Travis Sawchik (@Sawchik_Trib) January 28, 2014
If Sawchik’s source is on the mark, Burnett will test the open market as spring training approaches – if he hasn’t already. Last fall, the Pirates declined to retain Burnett’s services via a $14.1 million qualifying offer, opening him up to explore his options.
Burnett had said he would either return to the Pirates in 2014 or retire from baseball, but it seems he’s changed his mind. A recent report that Pittsburgh offered Burnett $8.5 million for a one-year contract could indicate that the veteran starting pitcher was upset with that and thus leaked the information to the media.
Burnett has been quite good since being traded from the Yankees to the Pirates, especially in 2013 as he contributed a 3.30 ERA and a career-best xFIP (fielding-independent pitching) of 2.92. He struck out 9.9 batters per nine innings and induced 56.5 percent of the hitters he faced to hit a ground ball, meshing with the Pirates’ increased focus on defensive shifting.
Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs had Burnett adding anywhere from three to four wins above replacement (WAR) in 2013, which would equate to around a $20 million salary based on what free agents have been paid this offseason. While the Yankees picked up most of Burnett’s contract after the deal, the Pirates’ asking him to take less than 50 percent than what he’d likely get elsewhere may be too much.
For his part, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington told the Post-Gazette‘s Jenn Menendez that their “process continues with A.J.”
Of course, all of this could be posturing, but it seems probable Burnett will be wearing a different uniform if he comes back for a 16th MLB season.
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