The Magnificent A.J. Burnett Dilemma
By Tom Smith
A.J. Burnett has 57 strikeouts, just one punchout behind Yu Darvish for the Major League Baseball lead. When Burnett was acquired from the New York Yankees, if you squinted hard enough, it looked like a really good deal for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Damn, was everyone wrong. It’s been a remarkable deal for the Bucs.
Coming into 2013, everyone on planet Earth said it would be highly unlikely for the Bucs right-hander to be as good as he was last season.
They were right. Burnett is blowing away what he did in 2012.
Just how good has the Bucs ace been this season? Let’s compare his strikeouts with the strikeout leaders on his former team. Burnett has 21 more strikeouts than the New York Yankees strikeout leader, C.C. Sabathia.
If you take the total number of strikeouts from Hiroki Kuroda and David Phelps and add them together, Kuroda and Phelps have combined to only equal what Burnett has done. Add up the strikeouts that Phil Hughes and Andy Petite have chalked up this year and it’s just 50 strikeouts.
So yeah, A.J. Burnett is on a roll. Thank you, New York Yankees. Sure, some will say baseball just recorded the most strikeouts in a month in its’ history, and that’s true. But Burnett has piled ’em up against some formidable competition – including 14 in two outings against St. Louis, nine against the Dodgers and eight against the Reds.
Last night against a strong Washington Nationals lineup, Batman spent seven innings toying with the Natitude, allowing just five hits and one run. He picked up his third win by going deeper into the game and giving up just one walk as he grabbed his third straight win.
And oh, yeah… he leads the National League in strikeouts.
So, what’s next for the North Little Rock native? As the strikeouts keep piling up, so will the wins, but the 36-year old is in the final year of his contract, with a hefty portion of that sum being picked up by those generous Bronx Bombers. The question is going to start popping up more and more.
Is Burnett playing for another contract? It sure does seem like it. He mentioned retiring after the season, but teased about sticking around Pittsburgh. Would the Bucs extend an offer to Burnett, and would he be willing to stick around in the ‘Burgh and solidify his cult status? Neal Huntington alluded to the fact that he would talk to Burnett, but the Bucs GM also said he won’t negotiate through the media.
You’ve probably already thought about this, but what contending club won’t want him at the 2013 trade deadline? If Burnett keeps rolling along at this pace, it would be a crushing blow to the heart and soul of the team, let alone the city.
It’s nearly impossible to think a Burnett trade at the deadline could happen now. The Bucs are playing well even without some of their best offensive talent hitting on all cylinders.
It all adds up to a great problem to have. A pitcher – in possibly the final year of his career – is having a career year.
And he’s doing it in a black Pittsburgh Pirates jersey every time he goes to the mound.