The sloth-like speed accompanying the negotiations between Japanese star, Masahiro Tanaka, and multiple MLB teams has slowed the signing pace for other free agent pitchers.
One of the unintended benefits of Tanaka’s dealings — at least in the eyes of Pittsburgh Pirates fans — is that the spotlight has yet to shine on A.J. Burnett. In other winters, teams across the league would likely be clamoring for the services of a proven righthander like Burnett. But not in 2014.
Many Pirates fans want Burnett back. Regardless of how 2013 ended — with the veteran righty being passed over by Gerrit Cole in St. Louis for a series-deciding Game 5 start in the NLDS, Burnett’s NL-leading strikeout rate (9.8K/9) and ground ball rate (56.5 percent) show he can likely succeed in the National League another season.
January hasn’t been kind to Burnett or other available pitchers. In other offseasons, MLB Network’s Hot Stove and Ken Rosenthal would be proclaiming Burnett and his potential value. But that hasn’t happened. Between the Hall of Fame acrimony, the Alex Rodriguez debacle and Tanaka’s ongoing posting and negotiation procedures, the current dealings of baseball have taken a backseat. It appears clubs are content to sit back and see where the chips may fall.
As a result, starting pitchers like Matt Garza and Ervin Santana have been left to squirm.
Eventually those guys will get paid, perhaps not as much as Santana announced he was seeking in November ($100 million-plus for five years), but they’ll still sign for tens of millions of dollars.
But then there remain guys like Paul Maholm. Maholm is not as highly coveted as Garza or Santana, but he can still help a club. Click here for a link to free agent pitchers.
With a glut of hurlers available, what does this mean for A.J. Burnett?
Well, the Pirates are an option. Whether that means accepting an offer perhaps lower than he might receive with another organization, Burnett said in 2013 that he would either retire or play for Pittsburgh in 2014.
“I enjoy it here, and I enjoy these guys,” Burnett told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in last March. “If I was to keep playing, I wouldn’t want it to be anywhere else but Pittsburgh. My wife and I talk about it now and then. But it’s something I’ve got to put on the back burner. I’m just going to concentrate on this season, one start at a time.”
Such a contract could be loaded with incentives to increase with a lower base rate.
He could also sign with Baltimore, close to his offseason residence. That would apparently make his wife happy. The Orioles could pay him nearer to the $16.5 million he made in 2013. Of course, that would also mean facing the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Yankees on a regular basis.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said he hasn’t spoken to Burnett since November.
“Neal (Huntington) continues to have the meaningful conversations that need to be had,” Hurdle told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “From my understanding, A.J. is doing everything he has done every other winter except for saying he’s coming back. He’s trying to make that decision.
“He knows how we feel. I’ve spoken to him, personally, all the way up to the middle of November. Then I felt like I was getting in the way. He needs quiet. He needs time at home.”
No one really knows what matters to Burnett except Burnett, and he isn’t talking.
Soon enough we’ll all find out which direction he wants to go.
But in the meantime, his value hasn’t soared like it might have in past winters because of the ongoing Tanaka negotiations and a host of other reasons.
That might not be good for Burnett’s bucks, but it could be good for the Bucs.