The Pittsburgh Pirates took a risk. They put their faith into the words of a player who has embodied the organization the past two seasons.
General manager Neal Huntington and team president Frank Coonelly listened to A.J. Burnett say that he will either retire or return to the Pirates, and are essentially putting a lot on the line in trusting their opening day starter.
How is the Pirates organization taking a risk? By allowing one of their stud starting pitchers, Burnett, to enter free agency. The Pirates passed on giving Burnett a $14.1 million qualifying offer; therefore, allowing him to test the free agent waters.
After Burnett told the local Pittsburgh media that he would either retire or return to the Pirates, it was assumed that the Pirates would still consider a qualifying offer just in case another team shows interest in the right-handed pitcher, and they would get a draft pick in return. Luckily for Pirates fans, the organization decided not to give Burnett the qualifying offer.
The Pirates have more needs than an aging starting pitcher. Even though Burnett had one of his best statistical seasons last year boasting a 3.30 ERA (matching his lowest ERA of his career) and notching 203 strikeouts (the second most in his career), all of the statistics tell a great tale in regards to Burnett, but his presence in the locker room might be just as important as the physical performance. Physically, you have to ask whether Burnett will be able to hold up for another season and perform to the same standard.
His health is not why the Pirates were smart to not offer him the $14.1 million deal. The Pirates were smart to let Burnett test free agency and possibly sign somewhere else because that $14 million could be used somewhere else. The Pirates are built around pitching. A team with such a horrid offense has to rely on pitchers to get out of jams and keep them in games, but if there were a list of team needs, signing Burnett for $14 million for a year of service wouldn’t be on the list.
The Pirates have pitching that should be available next season. Jeff Locke could flourish in his second full MLB season, Wandy Rodriguez is coming off of arm troubles and hopes to resurrect his career, Jameson Taillon in AAA Indianapolis is on the Gerrit Cole track to the big league club, emergency arms like Phil Irwin and Brandon Cumpton could surprise people and even someone like Jeff Karstens could be back and available to assist the starting rotation.
The pitching is within the organization, and that is why it was smart that the Pirates didn’t decide to risk that money on Burnett. Pirates fans should be happy with the decision and hope that the front office will find a power hitting right fielder and/or first baseman with that available money. The team needs go beyond starting pitching, and that’s why Burnett not getting a qualifying offer was a smart baseball decision.
Could it turn around and hurt them if he chooses to leave the Pirates and join another team? Sure, it would leave the Buccos without a top three pitcher and a compensation pick, but it’s a risk worth taking.