It takes a leap of faith to say the Pirates are better off without A.J. Burnett.
His age 35 and 36 seasons were phenomenal. Burnett put up back-to-back WAR’s (wins-above-replacement) of 3.0 and 4.0 in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
Can you guess the last Bucs’ pitcher to better Burnett’s numbers?
That would be Kris Benson, who compiled WAR’s of 3.5 and 3.8 in 1999 and 2000.
There’s really no other way to say it – Pittsburgh got obscenely lucky with Burnett.
Not only did the righty do it on the field, but the Pirates also got New York to mostly pay for it. The Bucs paid $5 million of his $16.5 million salary in 2012 and $8 million of $16.5 million last year.
In other words, the Yankees paid Burnett a combined $19 million just to go away the last two years.
Few would argue that Pittsburgh should have extended Burnett a $14.1 million qualifying offer. That would’ve given the Bucs leverage in contract negotiations. Either Burnett would have accepted the offer or the team would’ve gained a compensation pick in the event he chose to sign with another team.
Where has Burnett been the last couple months? Surely he could’ve quelled speculation if he wanted to. Was he waiting for the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes to end so that he could become the big guy on the market?
Sounds cynical, but it’s beginning to look that way. It’s also interesting that he waited until after Matt Garza signed with Milwaukee to leak to a source that he’s going to play in 2014. He’s now generating more buzz than any other pitcher on the free agent market.
Greg Amsinger couldn’t stop talking about him on the MLB Network on Wednesday morning. Amsinger speculated at how well Burnett would fit in as the Phillies’ No. 3 pitcher.
The man’s no dummy.
Pirates GM Neal Huntington spoke about Burnett back in November on ESPN-970.
“You start talking, $14 million is a significant chunk of payroll,” Huntington said. “It’s very different than $150 million, $180 million, even $115 million payroll. It’s not where we value AJ Burnett, it’s how do we build a championship team in the big picture. As we look to fill some of the other gaps we have or we look to upgrade some of the other spots we’d like to upgrade and should upgrade if possible, we felt $14.1 million in one player was a bit steep for us.
“Again, the valuation, the industry valuation, the organizational valuation of a player doesn’t always align financially or logically … We’d love to have AJ come back. We felt that dollar figure was cumbersome for us to build a championship team around him and the rest of the guys.”
As Pirates fans have read and heard, ad nauseam, the Bucs have not spent money in the offseason to fill any of the gaps Huntington mentioned, other than $5 million on Edison Volquez. Marlon Byrd, Justin Morneau and John Buck have all signed elsewhere.
Maybe it is best to cut ties with Burnett. His silence over the past two months has spoken volumes about where he stands.
Maybe there is bad blood between Burnett and some in management. He seems like a proud guy (#STFD) and it had to be tough to sit out the championship game in favor of a rookie. Maybe there was irreparable harm done and feelings were hurt. Maybe Burnett felt like he was disrespected.
Maybe the Pirates should let him go because he’s stinks against the team’s biggest rival – the Cardinals in St. Louis. Few would argue that he has been absolutely terrible there. His 3.30 ERA in 191 innings dips to a 2.94 ERA in 177.2 innings outside of Busch Stadium.
Is he worth, say, $14.1 million everywhere but against a huge rival?
He has been a bit of a head case throughout his career. He always had the stuff but couldn’t figure out how to use it consistently until coming to Pittsburgh.
The situation in Pittsburgh matured him. He took to the mentoring role of young players like James McDonald and it changed Burnett. The added responsibility benefited Burnett as he grew into a leadership role while he helped McDonald (and later, Jeff Locke). Burnett and the Bucs owe a lot to each other for that opportunity.
Manager Clint Hurdle cut Burnett slack like no one else. When Burnett hand-waved the bullpen to sit down in Washington, he showed up Hurdle. The manager stuck by him, however, and didn’t criticize him even when his pitcher seemingly put himself ahead of his team.
When the Pirates sent Diego Moreno and Exicardo Cayones to the Bronx for Burnett, they did so in late February – Feb. 19, 2012 to be exact.
There’s still time to let Burnett and the Pirates figure things out.
Most likely, Burnett will get whatever it is he wants.
He can up his career earnings to $130 million if he signs with Pittsburgh or somewhere around $140 million if he signs with Philly, Baltimore or the Nats. Some would argue that there’s not much difference between $130 million or $140 million.
The Pirates need to make an organizational decision.
Is the remaining budget best spent on Burnett or on a first baseman and another player or two at the trade deadline? Even at $15 million for one season, the Pirates can afford him. Huntington said he doesn’t believe that winning teams spend more than 18 percent of total payroll on any one salary. A $15 million offer would push the Pirates’ payroll to around $90 million.
Burnett’s take would be 16.66 percent of that.
An interesting number to be sure. Stay tuned!