SOUTH HILLS – Good morning to you, on this, the first day of the rest of our lives without the company of A.J. Burnett. One of the interesting details that surfaced last night was the Pirates offered Burnett $12 million to return to pitch in 2014, a deal that exceeded most speculative estimates. Jon Heyman first reported the offer and we then were able to confirm via a source.
The offer was a significant development. Not only were the Pirates apparently willing to raise their offer to be more competitive in the Burnett bidding but it also sheds some more light on their approach to the offseason.
THE BURNETT/PIRATES OFFSEASON TIMELINE
After learning of the $12 million offer, the question then became ‘Why didn’t the Pirates just make Burnett the $14.1 million qualifying offer back in November?’ It’s because the Pirates preferred spreading their risk – and approximately $17-$19 million in spending power – rather than allocating most of it in Burnett. Huntington told me yesterday the Pirates planned as if Burnett was not coming back.
The offseason timeline began with the Pirates electing not to extend a qualifying offer to Burnett and then on Nov. 19 they were deeply involved in the bidding for Josh Johnson. Johnson signed for $8 million with San Diego and there was some speculation the Pirates offered slightly more. But let’s assume they were willing to meet the $8 million pricetag. Johnson appeared to be one of their top “high-upside” pitching targets.
At the winter meetings in December, the Pirates became involved in the James Loney bidding with several national reporters suggesting he was atop their free agent wishlist. Later after Loney signed with Tampa Bay, Huntington noted at Piratesfest the Pirates were competitive in the annual average value of the deal ($7 million per) but were not willing to go to three years with Loney.
“I wouldn’t change anything we did or did not do this offseason,” Huntington said yesterday. “We had got to a point in time where we told A.J. if something comes together we’re going to need to know soon if we’re in or out because we are going to allocate those dollars elsewhere. The opportunities really never came to fruition.”
So the Pirates were willing to commit $15-17 million to Johnson and Loney in 2014, and then the additional $2 million for Clint Barmes. This suggest the Pirates had about $17-19 million to spend this offseason. Again, Huntington doesn’t determine payroll but he determines how it’s allocated. He was hesitant to extend the QO – rightly or wrongly – out of the fear Burnett would accept and limit flexibility this offseason.
“From a value you standpoint you can argue that $14 million should have been a no-brainer and we understand that. But the reality is in ten to fifteen markets a qualifying offer, if accepted, becomes a large chunk of payroll and something – right or wrong -we were not comfortable in doing at that time. It’s always easy to look in hindsight. If he’d accepted the offer it would have had a significant impact on what we could have done … If would have affected our approach on the first base market, the right field market, and bullpen market. If we had crystal ball and seen this is the way it would play out maybe things are different.”
(Since, no free agent has ever accepted a QO, since Burnett seemed unlikely to take a paycut from his $16.5 m salary of 2013, since it took until Jan. 28 before he decided to return to pitch, I still think it was unlikely he accepted a QO).
Huntington added had Burnett accepted the QO the club would not have signed Edinson Volquez. Of course there are no crystal balls. The Pirates were close but missed on Johnson and Loney. That pairing, I believe, would have constituted their ideal offseason shopping.
MEMORIAL MOMENTS IN THE OTHER BURNETT-AS-A-PIRATE TIMELINE
Rob Biertempfel put together a comprehensive timeline of Burnett here. Some highlights:
*Feb. 20 The Yankees trade A.J. Burnett to the Pirates for minor leaguers Diego Moreno and Exicardo Cayones. The Yankees agree to pay $20M of the $33M left on Burnett’s contract for 2012 and ’13.
*March 1 During a bunting drill, Burnett fractures a bone around his right eye. He has surgery two days later.
*June 28 Burnett beats the Phillies to become the first Pirates pitcher to notch eight straight wins since Dock Ellis in 1974.
*Aug. 16 Hanley Ramirez admires his two-run homer in the fourth inning, gesturing toward Burnett as he rounds the bases. When Ramirez strikes out in his next at-bat, Burnett yells at him to “Sit the (expletive) down!”
*March 27 During an interview, Burnett tells the Tribune-Review he would only want to play for the Pirates if he doesn’t retire.
*July 25 In the midst of a bases-loaded jam, Burnett motions for relievers to stop warming up. That draws the ire of manager Clint Hurdle, who dressed down Burnett.
*Sept. 11 After a two-run single ticks off Clint Barmes’ glove, Burnett shouts angrily at the shortstop. They exchange words in the dugout but quickly patch things up. Burnett later says he was unhappy with the defensive shifts, not with Barmes’ play.
Wipe those tears away folks, it’s time to say goodbye.
NOW ABOUT THOSE $12 MILLION IN THE PIGGY BANK…
The other interesting thing about the $12 million figure is it suggests the Pirates have relatively significant flexibility moving forward.
That seems like a number that could put them in the ballpark for a Kendrys Morales or Stephen Drew or Ubaldo Jiminez, or take on salary in a trade. The catch with the remaining free agents is they of course are tied to draft-pick compensation. It’s not just dollars. Mike Trout and Michael Wacha have been recent late-first-round impact selections and you don’t want to miss on future All-Star. But on the other hand are clubs overvaluing those picks? On Clubhouse Confidential yesterday, there was a study shown where only 19.4 percent of players selected from 11-50 overall go on to produce more than six wins above replacement in their careers.
Huntington indicated at the winter meetings the club was unlikely to give up a first-round pick in such a signing. He said yesterday he wasn’t sure if the club had a major move in it before Opening Day. But he also noted this has been a strange offseason.