It’s official, folks. A.J. Burnett is no longer a Pittsburgh Pirate. Well, I guess he hasn’t been a Pirate since the end of the 2013 season, but this makes it a finality. The Philadelphia Phillies have signed Burnett to a one-year, $16 million deal.
Burnett went on a Pittsburgh radio station in November and said he would take a while to choose between retirement and playing for the Pirates for another season. Notice there wasn’t a third option to play for the Phillies on his mind at the time. I have several thoughts about this, but it can be summed up very simply: Pirates fans shouldn’t be mad at Burnett for changing his mind; he owes the fans nothing.
Now the question for the Pirates changes from ‘can they sign Burnett?’ to ‘how much will not having Burnett hurt their rotation?’. On the surface, it looks like it would hurt fairly significantly. When one digs a little deeper into it, however, it may not be quite as terrible as you think.
Consider this: In 2013, three of the Pirates’ biggest contributors in the rotation — Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton — missed significant time due to being in the minor leagues or injuries. In 2014, assuming they stay healthy (which is all we can do at this point), the Pirates will have their services for the full season.
Also, the Pirates have another top pitching prospect, Jameson Taillon, on the way. Taillon is expected to be ready by June or July. While he isn’t quite on the level of Cole, he is still going to be a nice addition at some point.
For the beginning of the season, the Pirates will be rolling with either Edinson Volquez or Jeff Locke as their fifth starter. With Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez probably would have been the fifth starter. Volquez and Locke are both pretty much terrible. Volquez has a career FIP of 4.36 and Locke has a career FIP of 4.30.
The final question is whether or not the Pirates could have paid Burnett what he wanted. If you ask me, of course they could have; they just didn’t want to. They could have given Burnett the $14.1 million qualifying offer, and honestly, he probably would have taken it. If he didn’t, however, it would have been easier to sign him when he hit free agency because less teams would have truly been involved and the bidding wouldn’t have gotten to $16 million most likely. The threat of losing the draft pick that comes with signing a player who rejected the qualifying offer is too much for most teams. The Pirates wouldn’t have had to worry about that.
It comes down to this: How much will the Pirates miss Burnett? In the beginning of 2014 with Volquez in the rotation they’ll miss him a lot. However, once Taillon shows up they will most likely be fine.