Much has previously been made this season about A.J. Burnett and the possibility (or probability) of his impending retirement at the the end of the 2013 season. Burnett mentioned earlier this spring that he would at least be mulling retirement after this season, and that makes sense, provided his current situation.
The Pirates ace is thirty-six years old, he just got into the 2,000 strikeout club as a pitcher, he’s won a world series on two different occasions, with the Florida Marlins in 2003 (although he didn’t contribute in the postseason due to injury) and with the New York Yankees back in 2009.
There’s not much more for A.J. to add to his trophy display these days, at least not that can be reasonably reached. What A.J. can add to the long list of successes over his career is the fun that he’s been having as a Pirate.
And if Burnett can continue his career year, it’s interesting to think that Burnett would be given some due credit as being the man that led the Pittsburgh Pirates out of two decades worth of ignominy. Burnett spoke on the Fox broadcast Saturday about leadership and shrugged it off mentioning he has never been to an All-Star game and never thought of himself as a leader prior to coming to Pittsburgh.
It’s been noticeable, ever since Burnett arrived from the Yankees last spring. In New York it was quite clear that baseball wasn’t fun for him anymore. He was growing tired of the typical baseball routine that he’d been in for well over a decade, and he obviously didn’t like the atmosphere in New York (he is from Arkansas, not really the type of guy you’d expect to mix well in a city like New York).
As soon as he began playing for the Pirates last year, it was evident that he was having a good time. Not just having a good time playing, but pitching very well while having a good time. It seems that Pittsburgh has done something to awaken the fire of Burnett’s career, that previously was getting snuffed out.
Now, Burnett is leading the NL in strikeouts, while maintaining an ERA of 2.57. Those numbers are not easily found by any means. If Burnett retires next season, or the Pirates let him walk (although he has said that he’d only come back to Pittsburgh, money can change a man’s mind), who will they replace him with?
Where are they going to find a guy with numbers like that on the free agent market that they can afford?
The Pirates must make sure that Burnett comes back for a year or two longer, because they won’t find anybody else to fill that spot on the market next year. They obviously shouldn’t get tied up in a massive multi-year contract.
Burnett is not he pitcher of the long-term future for the Pirates, but he is the ace of the staff right now, and could still perform better than many other options that the Pirates would have available to them.
It would be much better for the Pirates to have Burnett than to deal with another year of guys like Jonathan Sanchez, et al. If the Pirates can get Burnett to sign on for one, maybe two more years, they should do everything they can to get that done.
If Burnett truly is done, a career year would be a great way to go out, letting him ride off into the sunset like the modern day cowboy that he is.