After months of contemplating retirement it appears A.J. Burnett has decided he isn’t quite ready to give up being a major league pitcher. Yesterday Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review broke the news that Burnett plans on returning to the mound in 2014. This would be great news for the Pirates if it meant he intended on coming back to Pittsburgh. It now seems A.J. has reversed course and is making himself available to other teams.
A.J. Burnett will return to pitch in '14, per source. Burnett will be open to pitching for a club other than the Pirates
— Travis Sawchik (@Sawchik_Trib) January 28, 2014
This is bad news, but not at all unexpected. I said it was a mistake months ago when the Pirates decided not to extend Burnett a qualifying offer. I believed that Burnett was not going to retire, and I believed he would eventually choose to listen to offers from teams near his home such as the Orioles, Nationals, and Phillies. Now it appears likely the Pirates will lose a very good pitcher. And because they did not extend a qualifying offer they won’t gain a compensatory draft pick either.
This A.J. Burnett situation has been entirely mishandled by the Pirates’ Front Office. It feels like they never really wanted him and were daring him to listen to other teams. I believe Burnett was being truthful when he said he would only pitch for the Pirates or he would retire. But I don’t blame AJ one bit for souring on the team after the Pirates’ brass showed a complete lack of appreciation by saying they could not afford to give him market value and attempted to negotiate through the media with implied low ball offers. And there was absolutely no reason not to offer Burnett the $14.1 million qualifying offer. Even if the Pirates felt the offer was a little too rich for what they were willing to pay, there was no risk Burnett would sign it. A qualifying offer does not come with a no trade clause. Burnett would never agree to a deal that would risk him being moved in a trade to a team outside the Mid-Atlantic Region. Just making a qualifying offer does not mean the Pirates would be boxed into that $14.1 salary figure. They could have used an iron clad no trade clause to negotiate a salary lower than the qualifying offer.
Futhermore, not having Burnett weakens the team. Edinson Volquez appears to be Burnett’s likely replacement. Burnett is projected to be worth around two more wins than Volquez. Where the Pirates sit on the win curve indicates that two wins can make a very big difference. Frankly, given the value in increased revenue for additional wins in the upper 80′s the difference in salary between Volquez and Burnett would nearly pay for itself. This is a major SNAFU by the Pirates. They need to make it right by extending a fair offer to AJ that will convince him that they really do want him and that he should continue his career in Pittsburgh. Otherwise, we Pirate fans will be left crossing our fingers that Wandy Rodriguez returns to health and Jim Benedict can work his magic on Volquez like he did with Francisco Liriano.