A.J. Burnett has been a huge piece of the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ rotation for the past two seasons. He made 61 starts for the Bucs, compiling 393.1 innings in two years. Unfortunately, Burnett appears ready to call it a career. He said after the season that he would take some time before deciding if he would retire or play baseball in 2014. If he were to return in 2014, it would be to the Pirates and no other team. Originally, it was thought he would take two weeks or so to decide if he would play again — however, it is the end of December and we haven’t heard from him.
If Burnett chooses to return next year, it would certainly be good news for the Pirates, however, if he decides to retire, it won’t be nearly as catastrophic as one may think. For most teams, losing an All-Star-caliber pitcher would be crippling, but for the Bucs, it will simply be a “next man up” situation. The rotation will be Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton, Wandy Rodriguez and Edinson Volquez heading into Spring Training. However, Volquez’s rotation spot will be far from guaranteed hopefully. The Pirates should give right-handed pitcher Brandon Cumpton and left-handed pitcher Jeff Locke a legitimate shot at stealing the fifth spot in the rotation from Volquez.
Top prospect Jameson Taillon should also be ready at some point in 2014, giving the Pirates seven or eight legitimate starting pitchers. There are also other options for the Bucs — less talented options — but options nonetheless. Casey Sadler and Phil Irwin are also candidates to start games for the Pirates next season if injuries become a problem.
With the depth the Pirates have at their disposal, losing one pitcher, no matter how great he is, is far from a tragedy. Would it be awesome if Burnett returns? Sure. However, if he doesn’t, keep in mind that the Pirates know what they are doing when it comes to pitching.