We have a little more than a week to go before the MLB non-waiver trade deadline, so it’s time for the rumors to really start flying.
For the fourth year in a row, the Pittsburgh Pirates are looking to supplement their roster in late July for a playoff run. With Francisco Liriano battling inconsistency, Gerrit Cole working his way back from injury and the likes of Vance Worley getting a key start Tuesday night against the Dodgers, it stands to reason the Bucs could afford to add another reliable arm to their pitching rotation.
Familiar doesn’t always mean reliable, but there is a starter available that the Pirates know very well indeed: Phillies right-hander A.J. Burnett.
According to Fox Sports national baseball reporter Ken Rosenthal, Burnett has expressed a desire to return to western Pennsylvania, where he revived his career following a trade from the Yankees. In the Pirates’ clubhouse, apparently the feeling is mutual:
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 22, 2014
Burnett, 37, was one of the best starters in the National League in 2012 and 2013 with the Pirates, helping them rise to contention and eventually snap a two-decade postseason drought. This year, his results are down across the board, whether you look at ERA (from 3.30 up to 4.08), FIP (2.80 to 3.99), strikeouts per nine innings (9.9 to 7.4), walks per nine (3.2 to 3.8), or ground-ball percentage (56.5 to 49.6).
At the same time, perhaps Burnett could return to his 2012-13 form after a few remedial sessions with Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage, who helped him revamp his repertoire and get more out of his ability than he did with the Yankees.
Even so, the cost of adding Burnett may be prohibitive for the Bucs, who balked at giving him a $14.1 million qualifying offer last fall. Burnett is making $16 million this year with the Phillies, with a pricey player option set to activate if he makes three more starts.
As Rosenthal tweeted, Burnett will get $8.5 million next year if he reaches 24 starts – he’s at 21 as of Tuesday – with further escalators kicking in at 27 starts ($10M), 30 ($11.75M) and 32 ($12.75M). That’s a lot of money to pay a pitcher in decline, which may be the case for Burnett.
Still, the Pirates may decide that the devil they know is preferable to the devil they don’t. If that’s the case, there might be a deal to be made.