Pittsburgh Pirates Rumors: Is An AJ Burnett Return Still Possible?

By Zach Morrison
A.J. Burnett
Charles LeClaire-USA Today Sports

It looks like A.J. Burnett hasn’t disappeared from the world after all. Ever since Burnett’s radio interview with 93.7 The Fan, a sports radio station in Pittsburgh, we haven’t really heard anything from the Pittsburgh Pirates or Burnett until today. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle went on 93.7 The Fan on Friday afternoon and said Burnett, himself and general manager Neal Huntington have kept in contact this offseason.

According to Hurdle, there is “still a chance” that Burnett could pitch for the Bucs in 2014. Way back in the beginning of the 2013 season, reports surfaced that the veteran pitcher could retire following the 2013 season. Burnett has said that he will either retire or play for the Pirates in 2014 – signing elsewhere is not an option. While this isn’t quite on the LeBron James “The Decision” level, it is still a big deal among Pirates fans. The timeline of events involving Burnett over this offseason hasn’t been promising for the Bucs.

The Pirates had an opportunity to give Burnett the one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer, but they decided against that. Giving him the qualifying offer would have only made it so if he signed elsewhere, the Pirates would get the top draft pick from the team that signed him. Weeks after the Pirates didn’t give Burnett the qualifying offer, Huntington said the Pirates would not be able to pay Burnett “market value.” If Burnett wants to play in 2014, he has himself backed into quite a corner; he is most likely going to have one option — to play for the Pirates for below market value.

Burnett was one of the top pitchers in the National League in 2013. If he would have decided to test the free agent market, there would have been a legitimate bidding war for his services and he probably would have been one of the top-three pitchers available. Last season, Burnett pitched to a 3.30 ERA in 191 innings. His 2.80 FIP suggests that his numbers weren’t as good as his actual performance, and his peripheral numbers support that theory. Burnett led NL starting pitchers with 9.85 K/9. He also had one of his best seasons for limiting walks with just 3.16 BB/9. The runners he did put on base had a very high chance of being erased on a double-play, thanks to his extremely high 56.5 ground ball percentage.

The only question with Burnett is his age, but with the likelihood that he would only receive a one-year deal, it isn’t a major issue. Like they say, there is no such thing as a bad one-year deal. If the Pirates are able to re-sign Burnett, it will be a huge bolster to their starting rotation, and it will quiet a lot of the nervous whispers regarding the Pirates’ slow offseason.

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