The top priority for the Pittsburgh Pirates this off season is to re-sign A.J. Burnett. Burnett is a big personality. He is brash and outspoken. He may have rocked the boat a little too much in 2013, but he is a damn fine pitcher. He is the first right handed pitcher in Pirate team history to record 200 strikeouts in a season. In his two seasons in Pittsburgh he has posted a 26-21 record and 3.41 ERA. Last year he posted the second highest ground ball % and fourth highest K/9 rate among all qualified pitchers. Despite being 37 years old next season he is still a good bet to make 30+ starts and pitch close to 200 innings. This is not a pitcher that can easily be replaced. Losing Burnett would be a big blow and that is the reason The Pirates appear willing to make an unprecedented qualifying offer to Burnett. To some teams the $14.1 million qualifying offer is no big deal. For the small market/low revenue Pirates it is a very big deal. Right now he is General Manager Neal Huntington’s main focus. But he can’t be his only focus. Burnett is considering retirement. He has said repeatedly Pittsburgh is the only team he will pitch for and that he is 50/50 on whether or not he is coming back. Huntington can only wait on Burnett’s decision for so long. The Bucs have other holes to fill and if AJ chooses to retire they’ll have a hole in the rotation to fill too. They don’t want to be left without a dance partner because AJ Burnett couldn’t decide whether or not he wanted to go to the prom. They need a Plan B.
Tim Hudson would make a perfect Plan B for the Pirates. Hudson is no spring chicken either, but the 38 year old right hander has a track record of durability. He has 8 seasons of 30+ starts and 200+ innings. He did miss the last two months of this season due to a horrific ankle injury suffered while covering a play at first base. But Hudson’s arm is fine and his ankle is nearly healed. He should be ready to go for Spring Training. The Pirates covet ground ball pitchers and Hudson is an extreme ground ball pitcher. He has not had a season with a GB% of less than 55% and his career rate is 58%. He is also a proven winner. With a stellar career record of 205-111, Hudson is borderline hall of fame pitcher. The Braves are said to be interested in re-signing Hudson, but they do not appear willing to extend him a qualifying offer. So signing him would not cost the Pirates a draft pick. At this stage of his career Hudson would only be interested in signing with a contender. A Pirate team coming off 94 wins that calls the very pitcher friendly PNC Park its home should be a situation that Hudson would consider a fit. The dollars should also match up. It is hard to envision Hudson getting an offer as large as the qualifying offer the Pirates are likely to give to Burnett. MLBTradeRumors.com has estimated Hudson will receive a 1 year, $9 million contract. Personally I’d prefer the Pirates land AJ Burnett. However, if I were Neal Huntington I’d have a call into Tim Hudson’s agent as soon free agency begins on November 5th to gauge his interest in joining the Pirates. If AJ Burnett drags his feet too long they can quickly switch to Plan B.