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Burnett’s back … or is he?


SOUTH HILLS – As we reported earlier today, A.J. Burnett will return to pitch in 2014. The Pirates and baseball world have been waiting on that news for nearly four months.

The other part of the story is unresolved: where will he pitch?

This is what I was told by a source close to Burnett:

“He’s made the decision he is going to play,” said the source, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “I suspect he is going to open himself up to the market.”

That doesn’t sound promising for the Pirates, who are on record saying they will not pay market rate for a top-of-the-rotation pitcher.

Burnett was a 4-win pitcher last season, which is worth at least $20 million. Even if you factor in some regression in 2014 – he is 37 – Burnett figures to be a 3-win performer, worth around $15 million.

The Pirates declined to extend Burnett a $14.1 qualifying offer  in November, which many analysts thought was surprising at time for a number of reasons:

*The QO was below his market value.

*If Burnett should elect to sign elsewhere, the Pirates would receive draft-pick compensation, which I think is actually the idea scenario for a 37-year-old pitcher.

*It was extremely unlikely Burnett signed the QO. It took Burnett nearly four months to decide to return and every free agent tagged with a QO declined the qualifying offer.

*The QO would also cut down on potential suitors.

All those reasons are why many thought the Pirates would do well to extend the QO. (Disclaimer: it’s possible the Pirates don’t want Burnett back). But Pirates GM Neal Huntington told me at the winter meetings he was uncomfortable potentially committing 18-20 percent of payroll on one player. The qualifying offer represents 19 percent of the Pirates’ current projected Opening Day payroll ($75 million). Huntington was with Cleveland in the early 2000s/late 1990s when the Indians conducted studies on the optimum allocation of payroll distribution. It was found teams that had committed 18 percent or more to one player had never won a World Series.

Of course 18 percent of payroll for the Pirates and 18 percent for many other teams – probably about 22-25 other teams – result in much different dollar totals. The real issue is total payroll – which has nothing to do with Huntington. The public expectation is the Pirates’ payroll would be well north of $80 million entering Opening Day after drawing 2.3 million fans in 2013 and with new national TV dollars flowing into owners’ coffers.

The Pirates are asking a pitcher, coming off an excellent season when he led the NL in groundball and strikeout rates, to return for a significant discount. Players rarely do discounts.  And in only offering a discount, and not nearer market value, the Pirates might have missed an opportunity.

The Pirates have said the best move they could make this offseason is retaining Burnett. With pitching starved teams like  Baltimore and Philadelphia interested and near his offseason home of Maryland, with Texas losing Derek Holland for half the season, retaining Burnett seems unlikely.




  1. macchamp74 says:

    Bottom line, rotation not as good without him. And pitching got Bucs into wild card game.
    Volquez not the answer in my opinion.

  2. Steelkings says:

    If Burnett pitches elsewhere next season for more than 14.1 million, it will be like Selling your dog because the price of dog food is too high. It will be really hard for the BMTIB to wipe the mud off there faces. Another example of the Pittsburgh Pirate amateur hour.

    I’m sorry. I invest way too much time in the Pirates organization. No right fielder, No first baseman, No shortstop. Well the BMTIB’s big excuses are tolerable til now. But if AJ goes somewhere else it will piss me right the F off.

  3. steve d says:

    Excuse me, but what is BMTIB?

  4. RobertoForever says:

    Seems like a lot of inferences and insinuations about what happened between AJ and the Front Office. (by the way, this FO seems to have earned some faith, no?, it seems their five year plan worked didn’t it? Even in the face of a huge public outcry to fire them offseason? I think they have earned the right to no ridicule for at least one season, maybe? )

    Tough to call it amateur hour, when they have a great batting average the last 18 months or so.

  5. RobertoForever says:

    Its a derogatory term to hate on the front office. Nutting at one point said he felt he had the Best Management Team In Baseball. And so any time someone gets their feelings hurt because the FO does something they think is stupid (of course in possession of all the facts and boundaries established ;) ) these folks use it to try to insult the front office. Seems childish to me.

    In my opinion, they have done what most small revenue markets FO could not do and that’s enact a plan that not only got them to the playoffs, but with the strongest farm system. All on a budget. Maybe the really are the BMTIB and someone will write a book and movie about them soon.

  6. RobertoForever says:

    Travis – question for you. A respected baseball journalist in the last week wrote an article claiming that the Pirates made $41 million in 2013. Could that be possible? Even with the increase in payroll and 3 playoff games, the $15 million extra in payroll would seem to make $41 million kinda unreachable saddled with an $18 million tv deal.

    Also he claimed that the FO offered Burnett $8.5 million. Any idea whether that is accurate?


    PS – I love reading your column and the debates in the comments (although I could use a little less hate and personal insults towards individual persons in the Pirates). You always get solid info and frame it with excellent questions with an eye to projecting the future. I don’t always get to comment with my schedule, but when I get a chance to catch up, it always a great read.

  7. Even if deep down the Bucs didn’t want Burnett, it was still incredibly stupid not to offer him a qualifying offer. He was never going to accept it. The QO doesn’t come with a no trade clause. AJ would never risk signing a deal in which he could get dealt elsewhere. Not only are they losing a terrific pitcher but they squandered a draft pick.

  8. Well at least I can keep AJ for $3 in one of my keeper fantasy leagues. Here’s hoping he goes a pitcher’s park like the Nats. Fare thee well, AJ, the most significant hurler for Pittsburgh in a very, very long time.

  9. Twan says:

    This post makes perfect sense if you believe people root for Front Offices and uniforms. I know they are an important part of the team, but when most people root for a team, they’re pulling for the players. Specifically, they’re pulling for the core players who set the tone, who are major difference makers. AJ is one of those core players who really turned this team around. We’re not talking about DFAing Matt Morris here. This is a clubhouse leader and highly effective pitcher who the fans care about. And, they could afford to bring him back, if they wanted to. Of course people are going to be upset if the omnipotent FO makes a blatant low – ball offer just to try and save face.

  10. Donald says:

    Call me crazy, but Burnett not returning isn’t the end of the world. Would I like to see him back? Yes. But he isn’t necessary. You’ve got Liriano, Cole, Wandy, and Morton. That hopefully will be a solid 4 starters. Volquez may be terrible… who knows. But look at all the injuries last year. Jeanmar Gomez started 9 games, and the Pirates went 8-1 in that stretch. While Jeff Locke was a HUGE disappointment in the 2nd half, he was an all-star in the first half. He could have a strong spring training after the winter of rest and make the starting rotation. And there are rumors the Pirates are in on Johan Santana (could be a major pick up if he gets back to form) and Bronson Arroyo (solid, if not dominant starter). Jamison Taillon should be up in June, then you have your full staff regardless of any of the above scenarios. Right field could be kind of touchy until Polanco comes up, but he is a budding all-star and should have immediate impact like Marte did. I think the Pirates would be better to spend that $10-$12million on a first base bat. While the market is kind of bare, maybe a move like signing Steven Drew at SS then moving Mercer to first base would make sense. But our starting pitching should be fine. First base is where that money should really be spent.

  11. Ghost says:

    “I think they have earned the right to no ridicule for at least one season, maybe?”
    No, they’re stuck with the moniker. Look, it’s great to see that the decision making has vastly improved from the days they would trade Jose Bautista for Robinzon Diaz, would go out and get Aki Iwamura and make him their highest paid player, or would clasp their hands in glee and declare we have “the single best management team in all of baseball, maybe all of sports.” (And don’t forget, this fatuous declaration was made in the erroneous belief that Pedro Alvarez had just been signed. The BMTIB was about to get a very public spanking from Scott Boras, would lie to the fan base about what was going on, and generally was conducting themselves as rank amateurs while the Steelers and Penguins were being managed right here in the same town with far more class and a lot less noise.)

    I am a big believer in second chances (well, in these guys case, third or fourth chances) and I’ve given Huntington and Nutting plenty of credit, recently. They deserve every bit of it. They’ve shown a truly remarkable learning curve and we fans have been the beneficiaries of their efforts and work. But the “BMTIB” declaration was a ridiculous thing to say at the time, and the buffoonery of it remains a highly humorous thing to recall even now. Even if there is now irony attached (as they may possibly really be one of the BMTIB), the nickname sticks.

  12. Ghost says:

    You might be right that this doesn’t mean the end of the world. I hope the Pirates know what they’re doing. They actually have made some wise, dispassionate decisions of late that would indicate they do (dealing away Joel Hanrahan, being very patient at last year’s trade deadline until they could get Justin Morneau at a reasonable price: just two examples). But as Travis points out, making the QO would have had a lot of upside with only the downside of a $14.1 mil committed for just a single season. A.J. would was/is the best investment option out there if we are indeed to spend ten figures on a player.

    I am not a fan of Drew, at least not for $20 mil (for 2 years). Maybe that same patience we saw for Morneau will land Drew at a better price. Still, I prefer looking elsewhere. Perhaps, after the season starts a trade not yet on the radar will manifest itself and will be the best place yet for our money. As for “moving Mercer to first base,” I have argued on and off for some time we should try Pedro at first. Mercer would go to third. Barmes bats his .220-ish thing, but gives us above average glove. All the moving parts are already in-house and under contract.

  13. macchamp74 says:

    How can you count Wandy in rotation yet? He hasn’t thrown a pitch yet to test his elbow.

  14. Steelkings says:

    The Pirates are NOT in on Johan Santana. Don’t be ridiculous. If a guy who has never pitched in the majors is worth 155 Million and the Pirates Super wonderful terrific management team wouldnt even pay the 2nd best GB pitcher in the Majors 14.1 Million, then they are not in on a healthy Johan Santana.

  15. tedwins says:

    Wowsie I realized when I awoke, to the non surprising news, that emotional responses would be on the blogs. Was right, must say that I was impressed with roberto forever comments (donald as well except the mercer to first reference) but do understand the other point of views. Not always black and white in life and this fits into that category, I suppose ;)

  16. kekkil says:

    We’ll be fine. We gotta have faith in the coaches, We cant wreck the financial structure of a small market team for AJ even if he is worth a 1 year 16,000,000 offer. I wish him the best whatever. Baltimore would be a nice fit for him. Our farm system is stacked with good talent. We cant leave them down in the high A’s forever. These young guns gotta get going someplace, especially our young pitchers coming up

  17. Steelkings says:

    I am a passionate fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

    Shame on the Pirates Organization –
    Everything went right last year. The team achieved everything it could possibly have achieved. The organization really set themselves into a position to take back the city as the number 1 sports franchise. The Steelers are down, the Pens have not quite gained the full trust of the fan base, and the Panthers and Lions are slightly more than a yawn. And yet when the Pirates step to the plate they trip over their wallets again.

    Shame on Bob Nutting – For Raising ticket, parking, and concession prices along with taking the MLB welfare package while spending as little as possible.

    Shame on Frank and Neil –
    For making a sugar cookie out of doing nothing. “We were not prepared to move that fast on Marlon Byrd”. “13 million over 2 years was more than we were prepared to Pay for Morneau”. “We are holding Money for AJ should he return to play”. For telling the fan base that AJ is likely to retire days before he opens himself up to the market.

    Shame on AJ Burnett –
    For holding the Pirates hostage all winter and not coming right out and saying, ” see that big pile of money over there? I’m gonna Jump on it!” See ya”.

    Shame on the Pirate fan base –
    For using the term “Small market team” as an excuse .

  18. Foo says:

    Okay…I’m confused…did not someone write that AJ would have been insulted with a QO, that it would’ve been a slap in his face? That he said “It is Pgh or retirement” and giving him a QO would’ve been not taking him at his word?

    And, didn’t Travis’ source say “I suspect” and not “I know” he is going on the open market?

    I would just like some clarification, not some knee jerking ‘woe is me’ stuff.



  19. Steelkings says:

    @ Steelkings

    Shame on you for having no faith in Edison Volquez. We really did not appreciate your little “He couldn’t hit water from the beach with his fastball” comment. And Volquez is proof that you were wrong about us not being able to move fast enough to deal for players. We offered that 5 mil and got his signature on the contract almost instantly. As far as AJ goes, we said he was going to retire…..We didnt say when.
    You need to give us credit for having the best farm system in baseball. And we did not trade McCutchen for prospects to get there. Give us credit for Liriano, Martin and Gaby Sanchez. They are proof that we can turn Chicken *#*^ into chicken soup. Wait til you see what we can do with Adam Dunn!

    Now get off our back!

    Yours truely,
    The Super Wonderful Terrific Best Management Team in Sports History

  20. Steelkings says:

    ESPN used the term “likely” hit the open market. The MLB channel projected AJ’s value at 22 Million a year based on last years numbers and this years market. The other thing thats interesting is that the Dodgers are quote “very interested” in Burnett. He is unlikely to pitch there unless they offer a sum thats too good to refuse. But the Dodgers will drive up the price tag for his services. You don’t have to be a Pirate fan for long to know what that means.

  21. Steelkings says:

    It would be stupid to offer the QO if they didn’t want him (which is now the very likely scenario) because he may have accepted it. You think the fans are peeved now that he is likely going elsewhere. Just think if they traded him so as to not pay him the QO money.

  22. Foo says:

    SK….his souce said “I suspect”

    Big diff.

  23. Foo says:

    Source not souce

  24. tedwins says:

    Sounds like he is going to get a big pay day that we couldn’t afford to give him. Best of luck AJ and thanks for your contributions. Ok, next in line please step up. What else can we do now? Move forward as seems like we have a quality team and other alternatives we can focus on

  25. RobertoForever says:


    What if, AJ asked them not to offer the QO so he could see what his value was without the burden cost of a forfeited 1st round pick. What if, ‘hitting the open market’ meant seeing what his value was. What if, the FO and AJ had an agreement to meet and talk after AJ felt he had a sense for what he was worth.

    What if, Bucs fans could wait for things to play out.

  26. Steelkings says:

    ***(by the way, this FO seems to have earned some faith, no?, it seems their five year plan worked didn’t it?***

    Winning more than you lose, Just making the playoffs and losing in the division round is not ….”Worked”! Win something. When you win the division, the National League Title or a world championship you can call it worked!

    Whats the line in Major Leagues? : ” At least they don’t suck!”

  27. Nate83 says:

    If he does go somewhere else for more then 16 million I’m willing to wait and see how it plays out before deciding if it was a good move to pass on him.

    If we find out the Pirates never ventured north of 12 or 13 million in an effort to get him I’d be dissappointed. It’s only a 1 year commitment and they are in position to be competitive. I do not beleive it would be wise for the Pirates to commit 18-20 million to him because I’m not convinced he will be that effective. If the reported 8.5 offer is correct then shame on them. He obviously is better then 3 million more the they gave Edison. That would be an insult to AJ if they did that.

    I will fully expect a trade during the year that adds payroll and talent to the team if the payroll stays where it is right now. This team is too competitive this year for money to be left on the table and not used to maximize the teams talent. Who knows maybe that move if it happens will add more value then Burnett would have.

  28. Steelkings says:

    If it wasnt true then I would suspect that someone from Burnetts camp would say so.

  29. tedwins says:

    You didn’t even give me a chance to correct you :(

  30. NMR says:

    Well said.

  31. NMR says:

    You really need to relax if you think there is any “hate” going around.

    It’s just a game, man!

  32. Nate83 says:

    I agree with this Roberto. The pirates still could sign him for 15 million for 1 year or something. I I I still think AJ and his agent will give the Pirates a chance to make their best offer before looking elsewhere.

    It’s a shame AJ couldn’t have decided to comeback 2 months ago before 5.5 was used on Edison. However he was well within his right to take that amount of time to make what to him is a very personal and important decision. It also wouldn’t have been wise for the Pirates to wait this long without Plan B being implemented.

    It was a difficult position for the Pirates to be put in. I don’t think it’s to late for them still to retain Burnett. Maybe it pushes their payroll a little higher then they wanted it but it’s only a one year commitment and shouldn’t hinder any future moves and contracts with their current crop of young players going forward.

  33. tedwins says:

    Hi Nate, where did this 8 million offer come from. Is that from the mgmt team or a ‘source’? Curious if that was all they offered. Thanks

  34. NMR says:

    The whole “no player has ever signed a Qualifying offer” makes no sense to me.

    What is the number 1 reason players don’t sign qualifying offers? Contract length! They’re looking for multi-year deals on the open market.

    AJ Burnett obviously is not.

    The Pirates clearly do no want Burnett, for whatever reason. Giving him a QO very likely could have resulted in him accepting, and that doesn’t seem to be the outcome they’d like.

  35. Steelkings says:

    Liriano LH
    Cole RH
    Morton RH
    Locke LH
    Wandy LH
    Volquez RH

    You have to figure that Volquez or locke would be the odd man out of the rotation if a RH’ed AJ Burnett were to return. If its Locke that moves out of the rotation that would leave too many Right handers for the National League Central division. If its Volquez that’s odd man out then you just, in principle, added 5 million to what ever you will pay AJ.

    I’m just guessing here that the FO was hopeful that Burnett would ride off into the sunset and not make them look FOO-lish.

  36. The Gunner says:

    I agree that by their actions thus far, the Bucs do not want AJ back. He is probably too much of a “loose cannon” for the BMTIB. They just don’t want the sideshow his personality brings. What a shame – he sure can pitch!!

  37. tedwins says:

    YES, Exactly, we as a fan base want him (not me because I’m borderline below the normal IQ of functioning humans) but the mgmt team chose not to give him that type of money. It is what it is, move on (talking to myself as well guys :)) and have money in your pocket to make the team special in other areas. Life goes on….

  38. Steelkings says:

    In the above scenerio, If AJ comes back Edison will become the highest paid Indianapolis Indian for 2014. They will hope to get him right and then send him at the trade deadline for prospects.

    Also as more proof that AJ Burnett pitching for the Pirates in 2014 was never a possiblity is that Kingham and Taillon are both Right Handed and they are both starters. One will be in Pittsburgh by June and the other by September

  39. Steelkings says:

    ***AJ Burnett obviously is not***

    Im Not so sure about that, NMR. Burnett says a lot of things. ” I’m gonna retire or Pitch in Pittsburgh” Remember that?
    Don’t be so sure that he would turn down a 2 year 40 mil type deal. You can always walk out in the middle of it. But one bad year could be the end of the line. He may have just figured out that the walls start closing in at home by the end of January.

  40. Nate83 says:

    It was in a Peralte (sp?) story. I’ve always referred to the offer as being reported because I’ve never seen anybody but him report it so I’m not considering it official and I’m not familiar enough with him to know how reliable he is.

  41. Travis Sawchik says:


    Thanks for reading and contributing. Always good to hear from you …. I know in talking with people in and around the game the belief is every owner in baseball made a healthy profit in 2013. I’m not sure about the $41 million figure. I think the bigger deal was the sales price of the Dodgers. Because of that, every franchise’s value has increased significantly. The Pirates have gone from a Forbes’ valuation of around $450 million to $600 million in one year.

  42. The Gunner says:


    I like your strategy. The BMTIB should reinvest the monies saved by not signing AJ on a real first baseman that bats lefthanded. We’ll limp by in RF between Snider, Lambo & Flabata until Polanco arrives.

  43. Andrew says:

    I think this is correct; comparable situation, (if you skim over gulf in payroll and revenue, which is highly relevant, but it is better than comparing Burnett to Cano or Drew.) is Kuroda and the Yankees. Kuroda is 39 yo coming off a great two seasons, and was said to weighing a return to Japan or maybe Southern California. Yankees made qualifying offer, he rejects it then later signs 1/$16 million.

    Not sure if Pirates do not want Burnett, I think they do not want him at a certain cost. Maybe it is possible that the Pirates front office/pitching staff has become drunk on their success in their ability performances out of pitchers, and do not think Burnett is worth more than the “reported” $8.5 million.

  44. BostonsCommon says:

    Its just disappointing to go through the entire offseason and watch the rotation be downgraded (Volquez for AJ), and 1B and RF be completely ignored. Has anyone over on Federal Street been working this winter?

    I know Polanco is on the way, but its not wise to bet the house on a greenhorn with only a couple hundred ABs in AAA.

    Frankly you can say the same thing about Lambo at 1B.

    As a fan, its hard to watch them take the ‘Do Nothing’ approach.

  45. I’m not saying they would have turned right around and traded him. But if the season went south and he is a movable asset that can bring back a good prospect at the trade deadline they surely would consider offers on him. There is no way AJ would ever sign a deal in which there was a remote possibility of that happening. It was a near certainty he would have declined the offer for that reason.

  46. chethejet1 says:

    Give the Pirates credit for two things, not paying for past performance and two, having a farm system stoked with RH pitching. The price of poker is high and the best course of action is to keep your players who have futures. Eventually Marte, Alverez, and others need to be signed and be part of a core group of players. Cole will be cost prohibitive if he maintains his performances.

  47. NMR says:

    I don’t think they want AJ because he is outspoken. Too much circling of the wagons within the organization for my likes, and AJ clearly doesn’t play that game.

  48. The talk about him possibly being miffed if he would have been extended a QO was pure speculation. I’ve seen/read others speculate he was miffed the Bucs did not offer him a QO because it displayed they did not value his services.

  49. NMR says:

    “Has anyone over on Federal Street been working this winter?”

    I love your posts, Boston, but man do I hate this cliche.

    You, me, and everyone else here don’t know 10% of what goes on within baseball organizations. Just because nothing came to fruition doesn’t mean nothing was being done.

  50. BostonsCommon says:

    Your statement is completely true, and I agree 100 percent.

    That’s just the frustrated fan in me.

  51. NMR says:

    I’m right there with you, buddy.

  52. Travis Sawchik says:

    It’s important to remember the Pirates were competitive on Josh Johnson and James Loney. And that there were not a lot of great free agent fits at first base this offseason. I also agree with not blocking Gregory Polanco. They have handled Burnett as if he would not entertain the market, though.

  53. Andrew says:

    Steelking you have some good points but you are poisoning the well arguing that Pirates are too cheap to sign Bryd and Morneau.

  54. Andrew says:

    I in no way claim to know what goes on in baseball or sports organizations but this sentiment seem absurdly petty for a multi-million dollar organization, though the stuff that came out of Seattle was definitely petty. But even more petty is you consider the willingness of teams to employ players who do far worse things then make several pretentious statement to the press.

    I am generally cynical about how competently companies are truly run, but man if decisions are made like you are suggest that is depressing.

  55. BostonsCommon says:

    All do respect to you guys, as well as management… but you don’t get points for just trying.

    Yes, they’ve been competitive with JJ and Loney and even guys like Edwin Jackson and Jorge DeLaRosa.

    Russ Martin even signed as a FA… fantastic.

    But what does that have to do with 1B and the rotation for the 2014 Pirates? And I don’t want to see Polanco blocked either.. But I’m not just going to give them a pass either… You didn’t upgrade the rotation…You didn’t upgrade 1B.. Ditto for RF and SS…?

    What the heck did you do?

    The frustrated Pirate fan inside BostonsCommon

  56. RobertoForever says:

    Agree, Nate. I think NH has let AJ direct the pace and direction of this. And I think they will give NH a shot at the end.

  57. Donald says:

    I would LOVE to see Pedro move to first base. But I get the feeling he does not want to do that, which is why it never comes up from the management side. It will eventually happen down the road. It has to. He is an error machine. Perhaps they want to lock him up to an extension before they tell him he must change positions? (why possibly make him unhappy and risk him not wanting to stay).

  58. Donald says:

    Johan Santana is coming off of a 2nd Tommy John surgery and won’t be ready for the start of the season. The Pirates requested his medical reports in December, and attended an early throwing session. He will probably be hoping AT BEST for a one year, $5Million contract to prove himself. I know the Pirates can afford that!

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