First for some disclaimers. Yes, I am well aware that the A.J. Burnett article and rumor horse has been beaten to death a few times over by this point. And yes, I am well aware that the Pittsburgh Pirates could theoretically sign anyone they wanted to if they really wanted to, so please don’t take the title in the full literal sense. The focal point of this article is to convey to you, the fan (or casual reader), that the Pirates are telling a bit of a half truth that a new A.J. Burnett one-year deal would overspend their budget in 2014 — this, after the absolute marvelous and brilliant signings of the likes of Edinson Volquez and Chris Dickerson.
Allow me to explain. The Pirates reportedly offered Burnett $8.5 million to return or about $5 million under the total contract value it would have taken to give Burnett a qualifying offer. With the uncertainty surrounding Burnett’s return, the Pirates hedged their bets and made two moves (if you want to consider them that). Move No. 1 was the offer to Burnett at $8.5 million. Move No. 2 was the $5 million they used to sign Volquez, apparently thinking that Volquez could challenge Jeff Locke for the final spot in the rotation. There’s the $14 million qualifying offer right there. The signing of Volquez did not need to be made. You have an All-Star in Locke who could be the fourth starter on many MLB teams to occupy the fifth spot in the Pirates ‘rotation. The only argument for signing Volquez is if the Pirates feared that Wandy Rodriguez would succumb to his injuries at some point early in the season and never return, but no one from the Pirates is citing that as the reason. Bringing Volquez in pretty much sealed the deal that the Pirates had no serious intention of bringing Burnett back to the staff in 2014.
So, that damage has been done and there’s no way to un-ring that bell. However, there is still a way that the Pirates can bring A.J. Burnett back to Pittsburgh in 2014. If there truly is no room left in the 2014 budget to pay Burnett the additional $5-7 million (above the $8.5 million the Pirates have previously offered) he will likely command on the open market from another team, the Pirates could always choose to defer all or a portion of his contract into 2015 a la what the New York Mets did with Bobby Bonilla (except the Pirates should not be stupid about it like the Mets were). This allows both Burnett and the Pirates to save face a bit — the Pirates get to shed the image that they aren’t willing to pay for the best talent that gives them the best chance to win and Burnett gets to honor his offseason statement where he essentially said he’d either pitch for Pittsburgh or retire. It’s a win-win and deserves some consideration.
The time to win is now for the Pirates. If they want to make a legitimate playoff push it has to be done in 2014 as there is never a guarantee that we won’t see a fire sale at the end of this season. Picture a team absent Pedro Alvarez, Francisco Liriano and others. As a fan, won’t you be a bit upset if your team had a chance to make a strong performance in 2014 and didn’t exhaust every option to make that happen? The losing and penny-pinching has gone on for too long. The Pirates need to find a way to make this deal happen to truly demonstrate their commitment to winning and prove that the 2013 season was not just a year in which all of the stars aligned.