An industry source told me today that it is “highly unlikely” free agent starting pitcher A.J. Burnett will return to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2014.
Burnett, 37, has spent the last two seasons with Pittsburgh, compiling two strong campaigns. Reports surfaced about a week ago saying Burnett, who had been contemplating retirement, would return to pitch in the big leagues this upcoming season, and has since drawn heavy interest from the Baltimore Orioles and Philadelphia Phillies, not the Pirates, who have previously been considered frontrunners for the right-hander’s services.
The source told me that the Bucs currently rank third among the contenders to land Burnett, behind Baltimore and Philadelphia.
Pittsburgh offered Burnett a one-year, $8.5 million dollar contract at the beginning of the offseason, which he declined. I have been told the Pirates are unwilling to go beyond a $10 million dollar offer for the 15-year veteran, while the Orioles and Phillies are both willing to do so.
I’ve learned that perhaps Burnett and his camp are still a little frustrated with the Pirates, as he was “livid” after rookie Gerrit Cole was named the starter in Game 5 of the NLDS over Burnett, a four-time postseason pitcher. It is unlikely that this would become a deciding factor in his decision, but as the source notes, it could play a role in the process.
Losing an A.J. Burnett certainly does not help a team, but the Pirates are a club with an influx of pitching depth, from newly-acquired Edinson Volquez, to 2013 National League All-Star Jeff Locke, who struggled mightly in the second half of last season, and finally top pitching prospect Jameson Taillon, who may finally be ready to break into the majors.
Baltimore is very thin with starting pitching depth, and Burnett could slide right into the top of the O’s rotation. Philadelphia has several options with their staff, but other than Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, no option that would appear to be an upgrade over Burnett.
Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in two weeks, and presumably Burnett and his next team would like to reach a deal that would allow him to report to camp on time.