The saga between the Pittsburgh Pirates and starting pitcher A.J. Burnett has gotten to the point where it has gotten as predictable as anything you would see in the WWE.
The latest came on Tuesday when it came out that Burnett would return to baseball in 2014 and would be open to pitching for another team other than the Pirates.
Like we didn’t see that coming.
There is still a chance that the Pirates can re-sign Burnett, as Pirates general manager Neal Huntington told the Post-Gazette‘s Jenn Menendez that their “process continues with A.J.”
However I wouldn’t put much stock in those words as in all likelihood Burnett will be wearing another uniform next season.
That will be a sad sight to see as Burnett has meant so much to the Pirates recent turnaround.
When and if that happens, Burnett will become the villain among many Pirates fans. After all, he did say after the 2013 season ended that he would either retire or come back to the Pirates.
The Bucs had every opportunity to bring Burnett back. They could have made him a $14.1 million qualifying offer at the end of the season.
While I personally wouldn’t have paid Burnett that much, even that number comes in under market value for a guy like Burnett, who was coming off a very good 2013 season.
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.
Throw in the fact that Burnett was fifth in the National League in strikeouts (209) last season and the $14.1 million almost looks like a bargain.
However, despite increased revenue from ticket sales, increased ticket prices this season and a television deal that Pirates president Frank Coonelly states is in the top half of the league, Huntington has been on record that the organization can’t pay Burnett $14 million or pay any player market value. Even though the $14 million appears to be below market value, it is something that the Pirates weren’t willing to do.
That’s fine, but it likely didn’t have to be $14 million.
Had the Pirates been willing to counter in the $10-12 million range for one season, this wouldn’t likely be a story right now as Burnett would likely be signed and ready to go for spring training.
Instead the Pirates leaked out the fact that they offered Burnett $8.5 million for a one-year contract.
That not only is a lowball offer for a guy that after a 202.1 inning, 3.51 ERA effort in 2012, threw 191 innings of 3.30 ball last year, it is less than 50 percent of what Burnett could probably get testing the waters in free agency.
The fact that was made public likely upset Burnett and could be the final straw that ended Burnett’s Pirates career.
Yes, Burnett strung the Pirates along, but a lot of that likely has to do with the fact that the Bucs never showed him that they were serious about bringing him back.
It’s tough to tell Bob Nutting to spend $10-14 million on one player, but for one year, that is something the organization certainly should be able to swallow by this point.
While I have respected the Pirates not wasting money this offseason in order not to block potential future stars like Gregory Polanco and Jameson Taillon with marginal players, the Burnett situation is different and it certainly doesn’t send a positive message to the fan base that came out in bunches last season. That coupled with the rest of the offseason to date has to have Pirates fans questioning ownership’s real commitment to winning.
That alone is a shame as coming off a successful 2013 campaign, things really didn’t have to come to this.
But at the end of the day Burnett will be in another uniform next season. The fact that the Pirates shelled out $5 million for a guy like Edinson Volquez, who hasn’t had an ERA under 4.00 since 2008, all but ended Burnett’s chances of returning as the Bucs won’t be carrying six starters.
But when you see Burnett succeeding with another club next season, just remember that the Bucs had every opportunity to keep him in Pittsburgh.
Don’t blame Burnett for leaving.
Blame the Pirates.