A.J. Burnett‘s career with the Pittsburgh Pirates may have come to an end when he left Friday night’s game against the Cincinnati Reds after eight spectacular innings of work. He has said several times that he is seriously considering retirement after this season. Burnett also adds that if he does return for another year or two, he would prefer to stay with the Pirates. If the Pirates don’t beat the Reds on Tuesday night in the Wild Card game, it’s very possible that Pirates fans will never see Burnett throw another pitch.
The Bucs acquired Burnett in February of 2012 in what was an obvious salary dump from the New York Yankees‘ perspective. The Yankees received two irrelevant minor league players, Exicardo Cayones and Diego Moreno, in the deal. The Pirates were required to pick up $13 million of the $33 million that was still owed to Burnett over the final two years of his contract.
While this was a salary dump from the Yankees’ perspective, the Pirates had high hopes that Burnett would be able to bounce back from a couple bad seasons in New York. They had a rotation that lacked strikeouts and veterans; picking up Burnett was able to help solve that issue.
Burnett missed the first month of his first season with the Bucs after breaking his orbital bone while attempting to bunt in spring training. When he returned to the rotation, he was an immediate upgrade. In 2012, Burnett went 16-10 with the Pirates with a 3.51 ERA and 180 strikeouts in 202.1 innings pitched. His 2.8 BB/9 was his best walk rate since his 2006 season with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Following his outstanding bounce-back campaign in 2012, Burnett has had an even better 2013 season. His record was just 10-11, but he had a 3.30 ERA with a National League best — among starting pitchers — 9.8 K/9. He surpassed 200 strikeouts for the third time in his 15-year career.
Burnett hasn’t just been a productive player for the Bucs, he has also been a team leader. Burnett coming to the Pirates and actually enjoying his time with them seemed to also add some validity to the Pirates squad. When a veteran like Burnett is able to come in and speak glowingly of the organization, it speaks volumes to the rest of the players in the MLB. One would have to wonder if a guy like Russell Martin would have even signed with the Pirates if it weren’t for a veteran like Burnett already being on the team.
If Burnett comes back, the Pirates would welcome him with open arms. If not, the Pirates have internal options and plenty of payroll flexibility heading into the 2013-14 season if they need to replace him. Either way, it has been a successful two seasons for both Burnett and the Pirates.