The Pittsburgh Pirates spent most of their off-season waiting to see if they would be re-signing pitcher AJ Burnett or if he would be retiring. Well, Burnett decided to pitch again this season but he did not sign with the Pirates.
Burnett ended up signing to pitch with the Philadelphia Phillies this season. And now with the Phillies struggling this season, Burnett is a prime trade target for teams in need of starting pitching and the Pirates have been linked to him by various news outlets. Despite this connection, though, the Pirates should stay away from Burnett.
Burnett is not having a dominant season in Philadelphia like he was last season with the Pirates. His numbers are quite pedestrian and he is nothing but a #3 pitcher at best. The Pirates could definitely use a boost in their rotation, but AJ Burnett would not be much of an upgrade.
Burnett’s strikeout rate is down and his walks are up. He’s pitching through a sports hernia that will require surgery at the end of the season. And overall, his advanced statistics would rank him as the sixth best pitching option for the Pirates, only beating out Brandon Cumpton and Edinson Volquez. The Pirates need someone who can come in and take a rotation spot and with his current stats, Burnett would not do that.
Burnett also has off the field issues to deal with. He has a player option for next season that, barring an injury, would be worth $12.75 million. The Pirates were not willing to pay Burnett more than $12 million last season when he was pitching lights out. It doesn’t seem likely that they would want to pay him more than that when he is pitching worse. Burnett would have to give the Pirates his word that he would retire or decline the option. But would the Pirates trust him after he claimed last season that he would retire or re-sign the Pirates? He obviously did not live up to that promise so would he do it this time?
The Pirates have a lot to think about when discussing a possible Burnett return. He was a fan and player favorite. He could revitalize the team and provide a lot of leadership in the locker room. But his stats show he is not an upgrade on the field and his contract situation could be very constraining.
So the Pirates have to weigh the options. Does his leadership ability outweigh his price and lack of production on the field? I don’t think so but that is an issue for the front office to decide. But if I were Neal Huntington, I would stay away from Burnett.