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A.J. Burnett Has More Decisions Than Whether Or Not To Retire

At the beginning of the 2013 season, if you would have been told that Clint Hurdle was going to hand the ball to A.J. Burnett in Game 5 of the NLDS, your reaction would have been:  Excitement?  Ecstatic?  Elated? Bursting with joy?  As a Pirate fan, it would have been hard to imagine a brighter scenario anywhere on the face of the planet!!  Not only were your Buccos in the post-season, but they made it to Game 5 of the NLDS with your ace on the mound??  Nothing you could have comprehended could have been sweeter!

But, as we know, that is not quite what happened.  Somewhere along the road last year, the Pirate’s best pitcher by far, became arguably the Pirate’s 3rd or 4th best pitcher.  Burnett really struggled at times with his command, but his bull dog mentality that had him slow down the game, and bear down on every pitch with runners on base, kept Burnett performing at an elite level, even if he didn’t have the numbers to back it up.  His attitude, his fire, his brand of baseball has been sorely missed in Pittsburgh since Doug Drabek left for Houston.

But last year, something great happened.  The Pirates got more talent!!  Burnett’s 92-94 mph fastball and knee buckling curve were upstaged by Garrett Cole’s 100 mph fast ball and Francisco Liriano’s devastating slider.  One could even argue that Charlie Morton’s new arm-slot has given him a 96 mph sinker that is as effective (or more so) as Burnett’s curve ball.

So, as A.J. Burnett contemplates retirement, one has to be convinced that he is wrestling hard with the fact that if he does come back, he will be doing so in a diminished capacity.  Clint Hurdle has proven to him that the organization believes that there are better options in big games, and as he ages, those options are only going to look better.  There is no question that A.J. Burnett is the undisputed leader of the pitching staff, but will he be willing to lead from the sidelines?

It has to be a very difficult decision.  One can only hope that he makes the right one, and is wearing black-and-gold next year!  Hopefully his decision is not based solely on whether or not he thinks he can be on top of the Pirates staff, but whether or not he has enough left in the tank to complement a very good pitching staff.  A.J. Burnett is the “heart” of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and hopefully he knows that.  He would be foolish to think that there isn’t a valued place for him on the team, or that his contributions are only symbolic.  Although he doesn’t top the staff anymore, he is one hell of a pitcher, and will still be the one guy that always gets my dollar when the Pirates come into town for a home stand!




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  • Campbell Sproul

    Interested with the argument that Burnett was the third or fourth best pitcher on the staff by the end of the season. I wouldn’t have a problem saying that Liriano was better, but as good as Cole was, Burnett had a career year, that was marred by some defensive issues. His xFIP was sparkling.

  • Bucsfan2014

    Sorry, but Morton’s sinker can’t touch Burnett’s Knuckle Curve. I doubt there’s a pitcher in baseball who has a pitch that has gotten more swings and misses then that one did last year.. Morton’s sinker doesn’t come close.

    • cfjohnsn56

      Not trying to be argumentative, but you are kind of comparing apples to oranges.

      Morton’s sinker isn’t a swing and miss pitch nor is it intended to be like Burnett’s curve ball. It’s a ground ball inducing machine which absolutely devastates hitters, especially right-handed ones and produced a 62.9% ground ball ratio last year that led all MLB pitchers with 100+ innings pitched.

    • Blueberry_Pie

      I believe Bucsfan2014 is responding to the OP who wrote ” One could even argue that Charlie Morton’s new arm-slot has given him a
      96 mph sinker that is as effective (or more so) as Burnett’s curve

      If the OP is going to compare Morton’s sinker to AJ’s curve then you have to look at swings & misses and on that you just can’t compare the two. So I agree with Bucsfan2014

      Morton has a great sinker for inducing gb. I also think Burnett’s sinker is very underrated. Burnett did lead the NL in gb% last year for all qualified starters. (He also lead in k/9)

  • ResistanceIsUseless

    As a Pirates fan I hope Burnett comes back too. That should give the team at least four very good starters to start 2014.

    Having saind that, as a dad of a school age child, I can understand his desire to spend time with his family. I’ve had a few times circumstances separated me from my child for a a week or so. However, it hasn’t happened very often and that aspect of the separations was difficult. I can’t – and don’t want to – imagine what it would be like for that to be a regular part of my job. If he retires I’ll understand, be grateful for his two seasons as a Pirate, and hope for the best for him and his family.

  • scott stevens

    Maybe if the Pirates had simply paid him his market value of 14 mil, we wouldn’t even be discussing these issues. I have never seen a team try so hard this off season to weaken a playoff quality team, one that we waited 21 years to have. How frugal can you really be when you have at least 30 mil in extra profits to spend?

    • ResistanceIsUseless

      Based on his performance the past couple years, Burnett’s market value is probably more than $14M. $16M – $18M seems more in line with the current market. $14.1M was the qualifying offer to get a compensatory draft pick if Burnett were to sign with another team. If we take him at his word that he’ll play for the Pirates or retire, then making the qualifying offer wouldn’t do anything for the draft and would have ran the risk of sending the message that the Pirates didn’t believe what he said.

      How do you figure the Pirates got $30M in extra profits? If you’re thinking about the new TV revenue, there have been articles discrediting the assertion that every team will get $25M more … and not all that money would go to players’ salaries. Higher attendance? That should increase income too, but by how much isn’t known. Furthermore, I don’t know the Pirates debt situation; I expect it’s nowhere near as bad as it was in 2003, but I prefer to avoid another fire sale forced by the team having too much debt.

    • scott stevens

      It has been reported in many financial publications that Nutting is the 10th wealthiest owner in baseball. That along with the 30 mil is more than enough to address the major league team needs. Do you really want a better team or are you satisfied with drinking kool aid and letting them throw the we are broke spin at you. So many gullible fans in the Burgh.

    • ResistanceIsUseless

      Ad hominem attacks, repeating challenged but still unproven assertions, and trying to spin what I said into something I didn’t say don’t prove your point.

      If spending big bucks on free agents was a guarantee to a better team, wouldn’t the Yankees win World Series every year?

    • scott stevens

      Stop with the Latin! Did u also fall for this spin ” If you like your Doctor or Plan , you can keep your Doctor or Plan”
      Please,this owner is swimming in profits, no one is saying spend like the Yankees, but it would have been nice to see some effort made in increasing payroll so we could expand on what we did last year. No they choose to insult AJ, turn off FA’s with we’re not paying market rate, suck all the off season excitement out of the fan base. I’m sorry that is totally unacceptable and I don’t think it helps the team by defending this type of frugal ownership

    • ResistanceIsUseless

      You seem to conflate a challenge to your assertions with defending Nutting. Asking where you got the the $30M “extra profits” isn’t defending Nutting. I’ve not seen that number before.

      Where have you read or heard that A.J. was insulted? I’ve tried to follow this story, but haven’t read any kind of statement from him.

      The statements about paying market value may just be posturing. If the team goes out and says “We’re building through free agency” you can be sure the players’ reps will be expecting bigger bucks.

      Which free agent(s) do you think the Pirates should sign?

    • scott stevens

      I think it would have been smart to at least make some offer to Byrd, no offer even made, with Palonco near ready a 2 year deal, which he signed for would have made sense.Also Morneau for a full season or two at first base would have given us some stability and would not have cost us a player to aquire like it may now. I would have been happy with at least one of the two being re-signed. Other than that a serious run at Looney or perhaps a trade for Trumbo would have been nice.
      Doing nothing speaks volumes the direction Nuttting seems to be taking this team. We are so close and one or two quality pricey additions could give us a championship.

    • ResistanceIsUseless

      Yes, a good free agent signing might put the team over the top. However, a bad
      one could make the team worse and tie their hands for a few years.

      I’m content to go with RF as is (Tabata/Snider to start the season, Polanco when he’s ready if they aren’t getting the job done). Byrd was a nice pickup for September, but with Polanco being near ready, I didn’t see a need to sign Byrd for more than one year. Furthermore, he’s at an age where he’s more likely to decline than improve.

      Sanchez should be okay as part of a platoon, but the other half of 1B is a
      concern; however, I’d rather roll the dice with Lambo than give up
      someone like Nick Kingham for Ike Davis. Morneau didn’t show enough to make me want to keep him. I wouldn’t have minded getting Loney, and we don’t know what the Pirates may have offered, but it seems they were outbid. Trumbo, like Davis and all the other 1B on the trade market – has flaws but his current team wants more in a trade than he’s worth in my opinion; hopefully the price will come down as Spring Training nears. If it becomes a major problem that seems to be keeping the team out of the playoffs, get a rent-a-player for the last third of the season.