Pittsburgh Pirates Must Consider 5 Factors Before Re-Signing A.J. Burnett
A.J. Burnett Was Considered By Many To Be the Pittsburgh Pirates Ace in 2013
Do the Pittsburgh Pirates really need A.J. Burnett? To most Pittsburgh fans, the answer to this question is the same answer one would give if asked if bacon should be added to [insert any food name here]. Most Pittsburgh fans, however, would be very wrong. But it's A.J. We need him. Well, loyal fan, let me tell you why you don't need (or want) him.
The main factor is not salary. This is how it will come across in the media and to the typical fan, but there are other strong reasons stacked against bringing Burnett back. It's understandable why fans would think that the final decision is financially based. The Pirates have been criticized for treating the game only as a business, concerned about cost minimization rather than on-the-field performance. This has been evidenced only until recently, when they made a "real" and "visible" investment toward winning in 2013, with the surprise signings of Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau. Aside from these signings, Pittsburgh fans have been burned over the last 20 years of losing, so it's difficult to argue that money is not the primary reason for bringing Burnett back for the 2014 season.
The main factor is not Burnett's age, having just turned 37-years-old. One would have to think that this will be Burnett's last year in the league if he decides to return. Can he enjoy repeat success in 2014? More importantly, will he remain healthy? This is a pretty big gamble to make considering these external factors.
The main factor is not his statistics, obviously. Burnett is coming off of a career year in 2013, in which he posted a second highest season total in strikeouts (209) and a career low ERA (3.30 - tied 2002). Additionally, Burnett's SO/9 total was 9.8 in 2013, up from 8.0 in 2012. Perhaps there are reasons for this aside from Burnett is really good. He's pitching in the National League now, so that will inflate his statistics a bit with the absence of the DH.
So, what are the reasons then?
5. Burnett's Salary Expectations
Salary is not the main reason, but it is a reason, which is why it's listed as No. 5.
Burnett made $16.5M in 2013. He's not received (or been due) a raise since the 2009 season, so he's likely to expect a raise. If his primary driver is to make money, he will be better served to test the free agent market. Sure, he's among the league's best paid, but there are still 10-15 names above his on the annual salary list. He'd be an above average addition to any starting rotation looking to make a run in 2014 for a one-year $19M contract.
The Pirates aren't going to pay him $19M to put on a uniform in 2014. They aren't even going to pay him $16.5M. They haven't paid him $16.5M since the guy has been here (The New York Yankees were liable for $11.5M in 2012 and $8.5M in 2013). The Pirates received a bargain, and, if he's not on sale in 2014, he won't be a Pirate.
4. Burnett's Defensive Shortcomings
Pittsburgh is a team that is not going to score a lot of runs on a regular basis. They have to do all of the "other things" better than everyone else; specifically, they need to be defensively sound. When Burnett is on the bump, he's a bit of a defensive liability. He's made 35 career errors, the leader among active pitchers. The Pirates cannot afford to allow any additional base-runners that could potentially be converted into runs.
3. Burnett's Dismal Playoff Performances
If the Pirates truly do expect to be a playoff team in 2014, they would see very little benefit from having Burnett on their roster based upon his historic playoff appearances. In the NLDS, he gave up seven earned runs in two innings. That was not the tone the Bucs wanted to set for the series.
Even before that game, Burnett has a 6.37 career postseason ERA. He's a champ in the regular season, but it's a proven bad decision to give him the ball in the playoffs. If you don't give a guy making $16.5M the ball in the playoffs, he doesn't need to be on the regular season roster.
2. Burnett, Hurdle Relationship
Burnett and Clint Hurdle have an interesting relationship. Remember that time when Clint Hurdle started Garrit Cole instead of Burnett in Game 5 of the NLDS? That was probably a fun day for Burnett. Remember that time when Burnett and Hurdle had a verbal confrontation in the dugout about defensive positioning? I bet Clint Barmes does. Fun times.
1. Rolling the Dice
Burnett is getting older. He's just turned 37 and doesn't have a lot of miles left on the tires. He's been quoted stating that his return is "50-50" and that he does "want to go out with a bang" and "to go out a Pirate." Didn't he go out with a bang in 2013 (discounting his playoff loss)? He had arguably the best year of his career from a statistics standpoint. If he decides to play in 2014, would "going out with a bang" mean that he would want to go to a genuine World Series contender and/or the highest bidder?
Does he have the drive to play any longer? Maybe he will run out of gas or lose interest at the All-Star Break? Maybe he will have another spat with Clint Hurdle? Perhaps he will run into an injury and the Pirates will be left scrambling for a replacement?
It certainly seems like a pretty big gamble to bring Burnett back in 2014.