Friday, January 31, 2014

...and A.J. Burnett

This is tough for me to really figure out. There were many months when we heard nothing from A.J. Burnett and we heard nothing from the Pirates. Burnett had made remarks that he wanted to pitch for the Pirates or he was going to retire and mostly what I think happened is that the media ran with this and fans took it a little too literally. I know I did.

What followed was Burnett not getting a $14.1M qualifying offer from the Pirates letting him become a free agent without any compensation. Actually that is about all we know about this situation, that the Pirates didn't hedge their bets of possibly losing Burnett by guaranteeing getting a draft pick if he left.

Actually as much was said by Rich over at TiGO when he gave us the only two things we know about this whole situation:

This is basically what we know.
A.J. Burnett was not extended a Qualifying Offer.
A.J. Burnett is talking to other teams.

That is it. One of those things, the qualifying offer, we knew about a while back and the other, him talking to other teams, we learned about this week.

This caused a pretty major stir among a lot of people of all walks of life who follow the Pirates. There were people who were saying this was all on the Pirates and then there were people who put most of the blame on Burnett. I fall somewhere in the middle on this. I think you can blame both parties and to be honest with you I am not even sure if I have a strong feeling either way for if he comes back or not.

This really isn't about being right or wrong, because that is pretty much impossible based on what we know. As Rich stated we don't know what the two sides have talked about or even if they have talked about numbers. I am sure they have talked back and forth because it seems like genuinely likes the city of Pittsburgh and from what we have heard Pittsburgh might actually give him the best chance to compete in 2014.

I found myself taking sides with both ends of this. I can see the point about the Pirates not bringing Burnett back because of the cost and what that might mean later in the season in terms of the trade deadline as Pat talked about at WHYGAVS but at the same time I also agree with people like Charlie over at Bucs Dugout when he thinks that the Pirates should just get Burnett here because they can get him for the going rate for someone of his talent level. This isn't meant to say that Pat and Charlie disagree about the endpoint, because I don't think they do and have said as much, but I think it just goes to show that there are multiple justifications no matter what happens and I think that many of them can be proven true.

I think on the surface most people are boiling this down to the fact that the Pirates didn't offer Burnett a qualifying offer. I think this is really two-fold in that the Pirates honestly don't want to spend around 18% of their payroll on one player and in the other sense I don't think that Burnett wanted to be offered it and have to turn it down. As I said before Burnett has said before that he loves Pittsburgh and gave the fans and media a perceived indication that if he was going to pitch again it would probably be for the black and gold. The fact of the matter is that what Burnett wants, if he really wanted to test the market, is that he wants to get the top value. If he signed a qualifying offer then there would be a draft pick compensation associated with his signing and that would [possibly] significantly hider his bargaining value. The Rays are rumored to be interested in Burnett. I can almost guarantee that if they would have to pay Burnett AND give up a draft pick to the Pirates then they would be out of the running. Like some of the other posts above I linked to I don't think it was as a slam dunk that Burnett would have signed the qualifying offer.

I think the underlying point in the situation is that Burnett didn't want to turn down a qualifying offer, if he was given one. The city loves Burnett. The way he pitches, his emotion, the way he doesn't care about anything else, the city and the fans love it. If Burnett wanted to try and get one more big way, which I have no idea if he did or not, then he wouldn't want to turn down the qualifying offer and look like the bad guy. I am not sure it would make any difference but I think Burnett likes being the "good guy" and might get a little extra pressure on the organization if the Pirates are taking the heat.

This isn't a knock on Burnett but baseball is a business. Sure, he probably wants to pitch for the Pirates but if someone like Baltimore is willing to give him $3M more then I am sure that would factor in to his decision.

What we also know, besides what Rich outlined above, is that the Pirate could resign Burnett. I am a little more optimistic than some others on this but I do think Burnett is back. Granted, I have no real hard proof to that, just more of a gut feeling. But it must be noted that this is a possibility. If Burnett signs with the Pirates in two weeks then all of this has been a lot of wasted emotion for a lot of people for nothing.

Back to having Burnett back. I really don't think I care one way more than the other. Last season Burnett led the National League in K/9 (9.85) and in ground ball rate (56.5%) and tossed 191 innings. That is nothing to sneeze at, especially since Burnett finished with a 3.30 ERA and had a 4.0 fWAR (21st in MLB). That being said Burnett is 37 years old and while he has been pretty fantastic for the Pirates over the last two seasons I think the Pirates would be OK if he wasn't in the rotation next season.

The Pirates are going to get a full year of Gerrit Cole next season and are going to get Wandy Rodriguez back after he missed nearly the entire 2013 season with an elbow injury. I was a little skeptical on Rodriguez last season and am still pretty on the fence about him not needing surgery but if he comes back then a full season of him and a half season more of Cole can go a long way into replacing the lost innings that Burnett could provide. Cole and Rodriguez team up with Charlie Morton, Francisco Liriano, and newly acquired Edison Volquez and you have five starting pitches.

I am not overly high on Volquez but I can't imagine that the Pirates are paying him $5M to pitch in the pen. It is true that Morton and Rodriguez are no locks to stay healthy for an entire year and Liriano has had problems putting together full years so that has to be taken into account. You can't deny that putting Burnett in the middle of the Pirates rotation would be a good thing but I don't think that is something they have to do. I think the Pirates can still have a damn good rotation with what they have now and if they have Burnett I think they will still have a damn good rotation.

The thing that people need to understand is that there are a ton of unknowns. We have no idea what is going on behind the scenes and for all we know things are going to work out in the end. The bottom line is that I can't get all that worked up about the situation because I think the Pirates will be fine either way.

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