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Monday Morning Mop-up Duty: the price of keeping A.J. Burnett


PNC PARK – Clint Hurdle said A.J. Burnett‘s complete game victory Sunday was the best game Burnett has pitched all season. No argument here. The one quibble you could have with Burnett this season is efficiency and he was efficient Sunday.


Burnett has only five wins, but he’s having perhaps the best season of his career. Burnett and Francisco Liriano are each pitching like aces, and Hurdle could have an interesting decision to make about who he wants as his No. 1 starter this postseason. IF there’s a postseason.


Here’s the other interesting future-related question regarding Burnett: could he be the Opening Day starter in 2014? Will he stick around?


The Pirates are a small-market team. The free agent pitching market is thin. Those factors seem to scream out that there’s no chance Burnett remains with the Pirates. But there are a couple things working in the Pirates’ factor …


Will A.J. Burnett be a Pirates in April of 2014? 


One factor is Burnett  is a baseball graybeard. He is in his late 30s. It’s unlikely any team gives him a long-term deal. The Pirates would probably only be in the market for a one- or perhaps two-year deal. The Pirates should only be in the market for short-term deals involving free agent pitchers.


The other factor is Burnett likes pitching in Pittsburgh. And who wouldn’t? It’s a great pitcher’s park, it’s the easier, no-DH league for pitcher, and it’s far from the glare of the New York media microscope. Burnett told our own Rob Biertempfel in March he was considering two options this offseason: retirement or re-upping with the Pirates.


“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.”


We’ll see. Dollars and years can change things. But I wouldn’t rule out Burnett staying around.


Burnett is heading for another 3.0 Wins Above Replacement season, which puts his market value at $15 million per season, maybe a shade under. Would he resign for two years and $28 million? Would the Pirates offer it? The season’s 12th sellout yesterday won’t hurt the cause. Bob Nutting is selling more tickets.


Stay tuned.



9. I wondered aloud on Twitter a couple weeks ago whether any pitcher had evolved less than Burnett over the last decade.


This isn’t an insult as his performance has been good enough to earn him nearly $100 million in his career. But throughout his career he’s been a two-pitch, high-strikeout, high-walk, highly inefficient pitcher. No changes, really. No changes at all. With more adjustments perhaps he could have been better. But Burnett has made one subtle but important since becoming a Pirate: he’s become more of a ground-ball pitcher. This has helped him pitch deeper into games, including yesterday’s complete game.


Burnett has a career-high K rate (9.8) combined with the second best groundball rate of his career (56.7) this season. That’s a borderline ace, folks.


8. Of course if Burnett retires or signs elsewhere, there might be another undervalued former Yankee on the free agent market that could really benefit by leaving the bandbox that is New Yankee Stadium for pitcher’s heaven PNC Park and the no-DH National League. Thy name is Phil Hughes. It’s a just a thought, but the former elite prospect is a guy who could really see his performance jump with a chance of scenery.


7. Maybe the Marlins didn’t trade Giancarlo Stanton for an internal reason: they could be pretty good, pretty fast.


The Marlins are 27-23 over their last 50 games and have two of the game’s most valuable assets in Stanton and Jose Fernandez plus a collection of interesting young talent in the pipe-line, some that is arriving like Christian Yelich, who seems to square up every pitch. They will not be an easy out this week at PNC Park, and I’d take the Marlins’ talent over the Phillies and Mets going forward in the East.


6. Russell Martin hit a three-run homer Sunday, looking like his knee was very much OK. It’s not 100 percent. It will not be 100 percent the rest of the way. But he’s proving he can play with it.


Consider Martin and Francisco Liriano – you, know, Liriano the Cy Young Contender – are going to cost the Pirates $11 million combined this season but they’ve already produced a combined $25 million value. (5 wins above replacment x $5 million per WAR)


5. What people forget is Liriano’s stuff was very good in the second half of last year, when he averaged 10.5 Ks per nine innings. It shocked me there was so little interest in a lefty, even if enigmatic, with that arm. What’s been the difference maker besides going to a pitcher-friendly league and park, is his revamped release point. He’s throwing more over the top now, which is allowing him to throw more first-pitch strikes, which allows him to get into positions to use his hammer breaking stuff.


4.  Whether Gerrit Cole has a start to two skipped or not, it appears he will be on the postseason roster if the Pirates advance. And I’d be shocked if he’s not a starter in the playoffs if the Pirates make it beyond the play-in game.


Said GM Neal Huntington:  “If we have four starter better than Gerrit Cole we are in very good shape.”


The Pirates don’t have four starter better than Cole. They have two: Burnett and Liriano.


3. Huntington has received very encouraging reports on his first-round picks, particularly catcher Reese McGuire. Everyone knew McGuire was an elite defensive prospect, but his approach at the plate and his bat are more advanced than some expected. He’s hitting .368 in his first 24 pro games. Austin Meadows is hitting .291 with two home runs. It has a chance to go down as one of the team’s better first rounds.


2. Major League Baseball and players benefited from moving the draft signing deadline up a month: now young players like McGuire and Meadows are getting exposure to pro ball right after being drafted rather than waiting until the middle of August to sign and lose a half year of experience. The game would benefit by moving the trade deadline back with the extra wild card to better separate the buyers and sellers.


1. Huntington said there are some trade conversations at the deadline that are “finite” and some that could continue into the offseason.




Don’t stop believing, folks.



This is how good Jose Fernandez is.



Gerrit Cole gets to face him again at PNC Park on Thursday afternoon. Lucky, him, right?


I really like Cole. But if redrafting the 2011 draft, I’m picking Fernandez No. 1 overall. Love this kid.



“I don’t what to make it seem like every (club) club was doing it but it wasn’t just one. There were a couple, in gamesmanship, that were reminding us how it important it is to this city to win and how long it had been. It had no impact whatsoever if not turning us against them a little bit.” –  Huntington



Liriano is only the third Pirates since 1912 to win 12 or more games with an ERA under 2.25 in his first 16 starts of a season, joining Rip Sewell (12-2, 2.22 ERA in 1943) and Dock Ellis (12-3, 2.24 in 1971), according to Elias.



Mumford and Sons are coming to Pittsburgh on August 29th. If you don’t like Mumford and Sons, there’s something wrong with you.


- TS



  1. NMR says:

    I don’t see any reason to give Burnett more than a 1-yr offer for 2014. If he’d like to be the Pirates Andy Petitte, there’s a spot in the rotation waiting.
    The pitcher that should be getting serious extension talk isn’t Burnett, it’s Liriano. His contract next year, his age 31 season, is likely to vest at the $6m option due to DL time this year, which I’m sure is far less than he’d be worth on the open market after this season. Great opportunity for the Pirates to re-work his salary for next season at a higher number in exchange for an additional year or two of control.

  2. Travis Sawchik says:

    Interesting thought. But if I’m Liriano, I want to hit the market as quickly as possible. Imagine had he negotiated just a one year deal? He would be looking at a massive deal this offseason, potentially

  3. NMR says:

    Very true, Travis. At (relatively) young age, he’d probably be looking for a deal like Edwin Jackson got last winter.
    Most likely a pipe dream on my part.
    Excellent mop-up duty blog, as always!

  4. Nate83 says:

    Yes but there is a lot to be said to maybe him getting 10 million next year and then signing an extension for something like 12 million in 2015 and 14 million in 2016. That would be 36 million for a pitcher that has had trouble piecing together consecutive good seasons. That is some nice security to have, especially for a guy who has already had arm surgery and knows how it can effect your career. It sounds as if the Pirates were willing to spend close to that much on Edwin Jackson. Why not Liriano?

  5. Nate83 says:

    Didn’t even see your Edwin Jackson reference before I included him in my post.

    I agree this mop-up duty blog is always an enjoyable read.

  6. BostonsCommon says:

    The time to sign Liriano was before this season started, when his value was low and he had something to prove. Turned into a brilliant move by NH. Assuming he has anything resembling this amount of success next year, his value will be through the roof. At which point, the Pirates can extend him a qualifying offer, and say “thank you” for the the draft pick they receive when he elects FA.
    Travis, you’re spot on about the lack of interest in Liriano. If you’re a soft tossing lefty reliever, you can make a living in MLB literally until your arm falls off and just disintegrates from the Earth. Someone will sign you, you can bank on it.
    Now here’s Liriano, a left STARTER, who still sits 93-95 with a whipeout slider and nasty changeup, who you say was K-ing 10.5/ 9 last year… I get the high ERA and everything, but how could this guy not find a job? We call this move brilliant by NH, but the more you look at it, it was almost obvious.

  7. Marc Culver says:

    At what point does Liriano become eligible to be in the ERA leaders category?

    I know he is not included b/c he does not have enough innings logged after missing the first month of the season, but what is the cut-off for him to be included?

    Kershaw = 1.87
    Harvey = 2.21
    King Felix = 2.30

  8. Travis Sawchik says:

    Nate, I agree I’d target Liriano over Burnett for an extension … I just think Burnett is more likely to agree to a deal of the two.

    I think the Jackson contract is a good comp for Liriano’s next deal. So enjoy his 2014 season, Pirates .

  9. Travis Sawchik says:

    Best bargain signing of the offseason? Has to be right there. Russell Martin ha to be considered, too

  10. BostonsCommon says:

    Something else to keep in mind is that Liriano hasn’t had his big pay day yet. Yes, he pulled together about $12.5M from the Twins and he’ll get around another $12M from the Pirates. But he will absolutely still be looking for and Edwin Jackson type deal (4 years, $54M).

  11. BostonsCommon says:

    NH is currently running away with GM of the year. You could argue that signing Liriano, Martin, and Grilli to ridiculous contracts were the 3 best moves in all of baseball last offseason. And knocking the Hanrahan trade out of the ballpark?

  12. * Exchanging AJ Burnett for Phil Hughes would be like exchanging a #1 Starter for a #4 Starter
    * This had BETTER be the Pirates best 1st round ever——they got 2 high 1st round picks
    * AJ, Liriano, Wandy, and Jeff Locke are presently (or hopefully, in Wandy’s injury case) better starters than Gerrit Cole. Even with Locke’s bad last start his ERA is about 1.50 lower than Cole. Cole WILL be better but NOT NOW.
    * The Trading Deadline is perfect just where it is. Since 95% of desired revocable waivers will be achieved, trades are still easily possible in August.
    * “It had no impact whatsoever if not turning us against them a little bit.” – Huntington.
    If Huntington was not exaggerating in this quote, he does not have the right disposition to be a General Manager.
    * Travis, you have been right on Liriano all season. I commend you.
    However, Liriano has been good, very good, before for the Twins, then fell off a cliff. Let’s wait to see his performance next season before giving him the bank. It is more crucial to sign AJ Burnett.
    * Seems foolish to be discussing resigning Marte, Burnett, Liriano, let’s add Martin——when we are in the middle of a pennant race. If BMTIB is worrying about extensions instead of a right fielder or a bench piece right now, phooey on them!!!

  13. NMR says:

    Not trying to discount your logic, Boston, but you didn’t have to watch Liriano for very long last year to see EXACTLY why he was having a hard time finding a job.
    You and Travis did a fine job of finding the signs for positive regression, but lets not ignore the fact that Liriano hadn’t been able to find the plate since 2010.
    Liriano was a massive gamble, BUT he was one that offered a high reward. That, IMO, was the genius of the signing. If the going rate for a FA starting pitcher is at least $5m, you may as well spend that on somebody who could potentially offer more than somebody who ensures mediocrity. I call this the Kevin Correia theory.

  14. To qualify for ERA title, a pitcher must have pitched 1 inning for every game a team has played. (e.g., 110 games = 110 innings pitched.) Liriano has somewhere around 102 innings in.

  15. Travis Sawchik says:

    To qualify I believe the rule is one IP per team game.

    Liriano would need 111 IP today, he has 102IP this season….he’ll get there

  16. Nate83 says:

    In hindsight I agree the Liriano move was obvious but giving 11 million to a pitcher that has an ERA over 5 in 3 of the last 4 years is never obvious. That by Pirate terms is a large sum of money. The second most ever given out to a free agent for them behind Martins contract.

  17. Travis Sawchik says:

    *Go back and look at Burnett’s 2011, he looked a lot like what Hughes looks like now: a 4 starter. I’m not saying Hughes turns into an ace here, but he’d improve like Liriano and Burnett have. I think he could be a good middle of the rotation option

    *If I had to pick one, I’m starting Gerrit Cole over Jeff Locke. I believe Locke is going to regress some the rest of the way and Cole is going to improve … and Cole throws 100 mph, so there’s that

  18. Travis Sawchik says:

    Agreed. Now there’s significant risk in Liriano given his track record, but I bet at least one team ponies up

  19. Nate83 says:

    Bingo. You know what Correia will give you. He will be reliable and ussually give up 3-5 runs. Rarely will he give you less then 5 innings. It is safe for a team trying to win 82 games and have a reliable 4th or 5th starter. The deserve credit and going for the high reward guy. Liriano could have just as easily been just like Sanchez this year.

  20. NMR says:

    I almost wish Travis would spread out some of the points in his Monday Morning Mop Up blogs. Always seems like a couple great topics get ingored due to shear volume!

  21. BostonsCommon says:

    I guess the hindsight is just making it look so obvious now. But frankly, Frankie had a couple things going for him that made him a good bounce back candidate (sorry could help myself).
    Biggest thing is just being a lefty pitching at PNC. I would think that is the number 1 reason why he is giving up HRs at almost 30% the rate he had over the last 3 years(.4 HR/9 compared to 1.1 HR/9) .
    The chance to work with Searage probably is directly responsible for dropping the walk rate from 5.0/9, down to 3.68/9. And you can probably thank Searage for helping to get his GB rate back up over 50% after lingering in the 40s for 2 seasons.
    Either way, it was a phenomenal move to sign him and NH should be commended.

  22. BostonsCommon says:

    Lol, you almost forget that he was even on the team. Sanchez proves that Searage is not a miracle worker… Can you believe they gave that clown 4 starts before giving him the boot?

  23. NMR says:

    “If Huntington was not exaggerating in this quote, he does not have the right disposition to be a General Manager.”
    Boy, I could not disagree with this any more emphatically. Other GM’s were testing him. Seeing if they could use the 20-yr narrative to make him panic.
    Huntington didn’t flinch.
    Put all the pieces of the puzzle together. It wasn’t just the PIRATES who failed to acquire a bat, EVERY TEAM IN BASEBALL failed to acquire a bat. If the lack of activity around baseball was a sign of the high prices selling teams put on their players, just imagine what they were trying to extort from Huntington?
    Furthermore, what if one of those GM’s was Jed Hoyer? I’m all for winning in 2014, but would trading top 10 prospects to a division rival in exchange for a minor improvement really be worth it?

  24. BostonsCommon says:

    “*If I had to pick one, I’m starting Gerrit Cole over Jeff Locke.”
    You’re either starting an All-Star or a 100 MPH flame thrower who doesn’t walk anyone. It’s a good place to be either way.
    Pirates are going to have some tough roster decisions to make if people (Wandy) start getting healthy they actually get into the divisional round. Only so many starters are needed. And only so many roster spots are reserved for pitchers. Can’t just send everyone to the ‘pen.

  25. NMR says:

    Couple major differences between Hughes and Burnett…
    First and foremost, Burnett had a history of being a good pitcher. He had a track record of ACTUAL performance supporting the peripherals derived from his ’10/’11 data. Hughes has no such thing. Even the most ardent sabermetrists will admit that at some point, ACTUAL performance has to be considered over the projection.
    Ground ball rate. Burnett’s lowest yearly rate is around 10% higher than Hughes highest.

  26. Chuck H says:

    Everyone keeps talking about the pitching. We have the best pitching staff in either league.
    We still need to add another productive bat to the everyday lineup. As good as our pitchers are, they still need a run or two more than what we’re averaging per game. Right now, the Cards are tearing the cover off the ball, and I’m afraid that in the coming showdown in
    St. Louis, we are going to need that productive bat. Just saying. It doesn’t have to be a
    .300 hitter, just one better than what we have. GO, BUCS!!!

  27. NMR says:

    “8. Of course if Burnett retires or signs elsewhere, there might be another undervalued former Yankee on the free agent market that could really benefit by leaving the bandbox that is New Yankee Stadium for pitcher’s heaven PNC Park and the no-DH National League. Thy name is Phil Hughes. It’s a just a thought, but the former elite prospect is a guy who could really see his performance jump with a chance of scenery.”

    FWIW, Burnett had a lower ERA at Yankee Stadium than he did on the road every year he was with the Yankees and his HR/FB rate was roughly 1% higher than it is at PNC.

    Also, if the Pirates were to sign Hughes in hopes he would pitch closer to what his peripherals say he should, it would be a huge waste of resources.
    The 2014 organizational pitching depth is light years ahead of where it was in 2011. Back then, a guy with a mid-4s ERA would’ve anchored the staff. In 2014, it will be disappointing if ANY starters post an ERA close to where Hughes peripherals say he should be. Spending significant money on a multi-year deal for a mediocre pitcher like Hughes is not what the team should be doing when they could get similar performance from league-minimum earners.

  28. BostonsCommon says:

    I like your point about organizational depth. Moving forward, the Pirates really should not have to add to much from the outside.
    It’s not even worth it if a FA pitcher can perform at at least a No. 3 level. There are several options to fill out No. 4 and No. 5 next year and into the future (Morton, Cumpton, Jeanmar, Pimentol, Andy Oliver, Kris Johnson, Jameson Taillon, and Nick Kingham are all options. That doesn’t even include candidates coming off injury in McPhearson, Irwin, Karstins, and McDonald).

  29. BostonsCommon says:

    can’t perform*

  30. chethejet says:

    Pirates have 45 million of expiring contracts next year. That is inflated, Yankess pay 7 million and the Astros around that amount as well. But the fact remains, even adding Cutch for 3 million and Franky for approx 4 million, that still leaves 24 million to play with. Walker will cost as will Pedro so now that number will go lower, and I don’t know that cost. But adding 25 million in TV money starting next year, the Pirates have financial flexibility going forward. I expect Jones, to be gone as what he will command may be to high for a guy declining in power. I think Wandy has a player option of 7 million that the Astros have to pay a big amount of that if he does exercise that option. Unless his arm is dead, I think he will test the market and probably be looking to return to Texas.

  31. Nate83 says:

    Unfortunately I don’t think Morton, Kartans and McDonald are part of the orginizational depth. All are due money next year and will need to be part of the 40 man if given that money. Maybe 1 of 3 but I think it is more likely none of them are on the 40 man next year.
    The Pirates have a lot more moving parts now. Tough decisions will need to be made going forward regarding the 40 man. Some players will be out of options, others will need to be protected. Players who are not currently on the 40 man will have to be next year because they outplayed their projections and need to be an option next year. The decision they made with Robinson this year will have to be made on many more players next year. This is a good problem to have. Never in the last 10-15 years had the 40 man been an issue. There was never enough talent to even fill the 40 man with legit major league talent. There was never a player that other teams would want if left unprotected.

  32. BostonsCommon says:

    Morton is a lock to be back. He’s only making $2M this year, and won’t see his salary going any higher than $5M in arbitration. Given his increase in velocity and the fact that he’s barley a year removed from TJ, I will gamble that next year will be the best of his career. Even if it isn’t, that is still an affordable No. 5 option.
    I don’t know about Karstens and McDonald. You could be right, and they could both be on the way out. It will be interesting to see what happens. I don’t know if another other team is ready to guarantee either a roster spot right now. Would be nice to see them both at Spring Training.

  33. Nate83 says:

    I could be wrong but if Wandy does not pitch the rest of this year I can’t imagine him testing the market. I think the option is considerable more then 7 million and he would be unlikely to get more then a 2 year deal at less then 10 million a year after the year he had this year.

  34. NMR says:

    Completely agreed on Morton. Doesn’t make any sense at this point not to use his last year of arbitration given his projected salary.
    I can’t see any way Jmac is tendered a contract this winter. He’s due to get the ole Ross Olendorf arbitrated raise even those he unquestionably wasn’t worth what he was making this year.
    Karstens is quite the wild card, once again. Very intriguing situation to watch. The Pirates were the only team willing to take a gamble on him this year and have been unfortunately rewarded by paying $2.5m to watch him rehab various injuries. He seemingly has kept good relations with the team and would be willing to stay in the organization. I think it would be well worth giving him a million dollar major league contract to serve as rotation depth, assuming he’s not done pitching for good.

  35. Nate83 says:

    Those are both logical arguements that I don’t disagree with. However the Pirates where questioned about giving Morton 2 million this year. What he does performance wise the rest of the year will make it an interesting decision. I’ve always been a fan of Morton and think he will be a good pitcher going forward. Late movement on your pitches and location is the last two things to come back after TJ surgery. I would hate to not see his improvement next year and watch him develope into a solid #3 for another team.

  36. chethejet says:

    No I believe the team option for Wandy is 13 million next year. I also recall the Astros have to pay about 5.5 million of that. So does have a vesting option of 13 million with a 2.5 million buyout. So the net is 7.5 million net option to the Pirates, not 7 if he stays or is traded.

  37. dickyp23 says:

    Mumford and Sons at Jazzfest a few years ago was so bad. They are boring and every song sounds the same.

  38. BostonsCommon says:

    I think if Liriano puts up back to back seasons like the one he’s currently having, GMs around the league are going to feel a lot more comfortable about going 3 or 4 years on him.

  39. leefoo says:

    I liked Mumford for awhile, but soon got tired of them. Their ‘sound’ got boring and repetitive.



  40. leefoo says:

    Travis…from your article today….if Barmes hit 23 HRs with that leg kick, why oh why did he quit using it? Did you ask him that?



  41. leefoo says:

    Nate…I agree.

  42. leefoo says:

    Travis…I agree with your comment in your article today about Jose Fernandez. If redrafting, I want him not Cole.


  43. Ryan says:

    People need to stop using the “small market” team excuse for the Pirates. The Pirates puny payroll is much lower than the Reds and Brewers, both of whom are in smaller markets (# 34, and 35, respectively). PIT is #23. It is also much lower than St. Louis, which is only two market sizes bigger (#21, PIT, #23).

    I’m glad the Pirates don’t spend like, well, drunken sailors, but its time to pay the veterans like AJ, who have gotten the job done, what they are worth. We have more than enough money to do so.

  44. cmat0829 says:

    The decision making of THIS front office the last 2 years has been superlative… no doubt about it.

  45. cmat0829 says:

    And as to any objection over the “it may have turned us against them a little bit”.. can’t see that having an impact of whether a trade was made or not…. if Theo Epstein called the Bucs a bunch of losers and challenged NH’s manhood to make a deal, but then presented a reasonable offer for his player(s), there is no way a trade doesn’t happen.

    Reading anything else into that is trying to stretch the facts to meet a predisposed agenda…but all is fair in love, war and blogging, right?

  46. cmat0829 says:

    2014 rotation will include Liriano, Locke, Cole for sure. Quite likely Wandy. If you can re-sign AJ, then that is great. But Taillon is coming, likely Mid-June, so you have flexibility. Morton can stay for depth reasons also….but will have to learn how to be a bullpen asset as well.

    Also, veteran pitchers who need to get their mojo back should be beating the door down to PNC Park… so we should have our choice of some of these for a reasonable price….

  47. Travis Sawchik says:

    Hitters are always tweaking and making adjustments … he only hit .245 in 2009 with the leg kick, .290 the year before without it.

  48. Travis Sawchik says:

    They are all small market clubs. None of the aforementioned will ever spend like a major market, unless they have an owner who doesn’t mind deficit spending.

    The Pirates are a much different animal than St. Louis because St. Louis has a track record of success and is a baseball-first town. Pittsburgh has/is neither of those things.

    With an attendance spike should come a spending increase, we’ll see, but also consider the Pirates have an awful local TV deal.

    Still, being a small-market team doesn’t mean you can’t compete, it just means no big-ticket free agents and a smaller margin for error

  49. Travis Sawchik says:

    Yes, I’m assuming Wandy will pick up his option due to the uncertainty around his elbow.

  50. Travis Sawchik says:

    I’m not suggesting Hughes will suddenly become a staff ace only that he will be much better if his habitat was the NL Central and PNC Park.

    If you look at Burnett in his time with the Yankees and Blue Jays he produced one ERA below 3.98. He was not a great pitcher in the American League.

    If I’m an NL GM I’d be targeting AL free agent pitchers. I think there’s a very a market inefficiency, in that their improvement in moving to the NL is undervalued.

  51. leefoo says:

    TS….thx….good answer!


  52. leefoo says:

    Travis…..ssssshhhhhh….let’s keep all those AL pitchers to ourselves!


  53. leefoo says:

    Pittsburgh USED to have a good track record. Then the 90s happened….and the aughties….


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