As pitchers and catchers are set to report to Bradenton in less than two weeks, the only big question left for the Pittsburgh Pirates is whether or not starting pitcher A.J. Burnett will be joining them.
With Burnett and his agent faced with a decision of where he wants to end his career, the Pirates appear to still be in the running.
The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo wrote that it’s “a Baltimore-Philadelphia-Pittsburgh runoff” for the services of free-agent starter.
Burnett recently announced his intent to come back for one more season, and initially drew the interest of more than a handful of teams.
However, he said he prefers to stay close to his home in Maryland, knocking out a good portion of potential suitors. Now, it’s apparently up to the Orioles, Phillies and Pirates.
The Orioles would be much closer to his home than the others and could be the favorite because of that. They also have been on record in the past week of saying that they were “all-in” for Burnett so if he wants one more big final paycheck, it will likely come with the Orioles. But despite being closer to home, does Burnett really want to finish his career in the American League East, a place he didn’t fare that well the first time around?
The Phillies are also intriguing as assistant GM Scott Proefrock is friends with Burnett and they live in the same neighborhood. Burnett and Phillies starter Cliff Lee share an agent in Darek Braunecker, and Philadelphia has checked in on Burnett’s status a couple of times during the offseason, so their interest level remains very high.
Then there’s the Bucs, who still have a legitimate shot of retaining Burnett if they open up the checkbook a little bit.
He loves the city and the organization and the Pirates helped resurrect his career after hitting a low point with the Yankees.
The Pirates have also adopted defensive shifts, which was one reason why Burnett’s numbers improved. And, as Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune notes, Burnett ditched his four-seamer in favor of the two-seamer after coming to Pittsburgh.
Finally there’s the fact that Burnett’s business is unfinished in Pittsburgh and out of the three teams in the running, the Pirates could offer Burnett his best chance of winning another championship.
It remains to be seen if the Pirates will be willing to pay Burnett what he is worth, but at the end of the day they have one more chance to make things right.