Pittsburgh Pirates Could Easily Sign A.J. Burnett If They Really Wanted To

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Vinny Gala is a Pittsburgh Pirates writer for RantSports.  Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

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  • patrick

    To be fair, Jeff Locke is not a long term solution to any Pirates problems. The Pirates signed Volquez as a depth move, but over payed him by wayyyyy tooo much (as you mentioned at $5 mil) and it was clear that they offered him hoping that AJ would accept the 8.5 million bid. That move was stupid considering you have Crumpton, Gomez, Irwin, etc to fill depth… If you ask me; the Bucs should tell AJ to shove it if they wont pay. He was an absolute nobody when he came to Pittsburgh, and if he leaves here I suspect that will happen again. As for replacing him… well there’s always people they could pay the money for and also spare themselves 6 years in age with Santana or Jimenez but would have to forfeit a pick. In all honesty, I think its too late for the Bucco’s to do anything but hope and prey that either Locke, Volquez, or Taillon can have an exceptional season, or half-season. HAHA or sign Bronson Arroyo.

    • Vinny Gala

      Valid points indeed. Wandy Rodriguez isn’t going to make it through the season, and even if he does, Hurdle is going to nurse him through it and possibly shut him down early. The Pirates had to do something with their rotation. Taillon’s not ready, and won’t be for another season (and even if he was, there can’t be a person alive that could think the Pirates would start his service clock). Locke, as you mentioned, is not a long term solution – he was a pleasant surprise last year and if he does around 80% as well, I’d imagine the team would be happy all things considered.

      It’s not my money so I think they should build their pitching staff with the best arms that gives them a legitimate chance to compete. Now that Arroyo is off the market (haha, by the way), you’d have to think Burnett will command a hefty salary from the perfect suitor. Maybe the Buccos can get a bit of a discount and Burnett can have one more year in the sun a la Jake Taylor style.