Now that the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ season is over, it is time to start looking forward to the offseason. The Bucs have a few players of their own that they need to try to re-sign before they worry about the rest of the free agent class; the most important may be A.J. Burnett.
Burnett, even at age 36, had one of his best seasons in 2013 with the Pirates. He pitched 191 innings, going 10-11 with a 3.30 ERA. His peripheral numbers were even better; his 2.92 xFIP was one of the best in the National League. He led all NL starting pitchers with 9.85 K/9 and his 56.5 ground ball percentage was best in the NL as well.
The Pirates will have more money than usual to work with this offseason because of the playoff revenue, a new PNC Park attendance record in 2013 and a new TV deal that has given every team a ton of money to spend this offseason. Just because they have the money to bring Burnett back doesn’t mean they should do something crazy in an effort to keep him. Given that he is entering his age-37 season, I would hesitate to go beyond a one-year deal, and he probably wouldn’t want more than one year anyway — Burnett has stated that he will either retire or return to the Bucs. It sure sounds like he wants to either play one more season or retire, so a multi-year deal seems unlikely.
Given his age and the Pirates’ small-market limitations, they shouldn’t offer him much more than a one-year deal worth around $15 million. If I were running the show, I would offer Burnett a qualifying offer. The qualifying offer this offseason is worth $14.1 million, and if he rejects it, the Pirates would get a draft pick if Burnett signs somewhere else.
The Pirates’ rotation would obviously be better with Burnett a part of it for one more season, but it isn’t a big enough need to break the bank in order to bring him back. The Pirates have shown that they can find starting pitchers coming off of down years and fix them — Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli — so the Pirates should find a couple pitchers that are bounce back candidates and sign them to cheap deals and spend some money where the real need is, first base.