I said it was a mistake when the Pirates declined to offer A.J Burnett the $14.1 million qualifying offer. The Pirates were going to look foolish if Burnett changed his mind and signed with another team after saying he would retire or only pitch for the Bucs. Yesterday, that happened. Burnett signed a 1 year, $16 million deal with the Phillies. Jon Heyman later reported the Pirates best offer to A.J. was a “very fair” $12 million contract.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) February 13, 2014
This brings the A.J. Burnett contract saga to an end. I’m disappointed in Burnett. I would like to think that a guy with the career earnings that he has would rather pitch in front of a fan base that already adores him, and for a team better positioned to win. To pass up a better situation at this stage of his career for a relatively paltry amount of money is just sad. However, the botched handling of this whole negotiation by the Pirates is even more sad. If the Pirates were willing to go as high as $12 million for Burnett they should have been willing to go to $14 million with the qualifying offer. I do not think Burnett would have signed the offer. A QO does not offer trade protection and for that reason I believe AJ would have declined it. I think had the Pirates offered Burnett a QO it is very likely they would have eventually settled on a contract at right around $12 million. The Pirates grossly miscalculated the free agent market and Burnett’s motivations. By not offering A.J. the QO they dared him to listen to other offers. He did and now he is gone.
Burnett’s short two year stay in Pittsburgh should not be tainted by his exit. I will personally remember him fondly. He brought a moxie to the mound at PNC Park that had been missing since the day the park opened. Burnett was brash and his personality sometimes explosive. His ego was huge. Towards the end of the 2013 season it got a little too big. But he also became a mentor to younger pitchers on the staff. James McDonald and Jeff Locke were especially affected by Burnett’s presence. Gerrit Cole cited A.J. for helping him to develop his breaking ball. And the guy could certainly pitch. Burnett also leaves his mark in the Pittsburgh record books. He was the first and only right handed pitcher in team history to register a 200 strikeout season. In 2013 he led all qualified National League pitchers in K/9 and GB%.
As a final tribute to A.J. Burnett, let us relive one of his greatest moments as a Pirate. This was on September 21, 2013. It was his last home start as a Pirate. He tossed a gem in this game, picking up the win while whiffing 12 Reds, including this 6th inning K of Joey Votto on a beautiful knucklecurve for his 200th strikeout of the season.