First Pitch: What Would it Take to Extend A.J. Burnett?

Last night I wrote about how Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett are the 1-A and 1-B when it comes to Pirates aces. I also said that I feel Liriano has passed Burnett as the Pirates ace. Typically, Burnett would follow that up with a complete game gem, allowing one run and striking out nine. After the game, Clint Hurdle was asked about the possibility that the Pirates have two aces.

“Frankie set the bar in a good place for us the other night and A.J. just pushed it up,” Hurdle said.

I still believe that Liriano is the top pitcher right now, especially with the “left-hander in PNC Park” factor, but it’s splitting hairs. Either way, the Pirates have two really good pitchers. But only one of those pitchers is under team control beyond the 2013 season. Liriano has a vesting option for the 2014 season, while Burnett is a free agent after the year.

Currently the Pirates have everyone in the current rotation under team control in 2014, except Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez. Rodriguez has a player option, which he seems likely to exercise due to his current injury. That would give the Pirates a rotation of Francisco Liriano, Rodriguez, Gerrit Cole, Jeff Locke, and Charlie Morton. As we’ve seen this year, you need more than five starters. While Stolmy Pimentel, Brandon Cumpton, Jameson Taillon, Phil Irwin, Kyle McPherson, Nick Kingham and others could serve as depth throughout the year next year, you’d like to improve from the top down. Bringing back Burnett would be a huge boost for the staff.

A.J. Burnett
A.J. Burnett is the leader of the pitching staff in Pittsburgh. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Prior to the season, Burnett talked about how he would either retire after the season, or sign with the Pirates. Judging by his comments after the game, he hasn’t lost his love for Pittsburgh.

“It’s awesome,” Burnett said of tonight’s crowd. “It’s been a great season all-around packing this place in. They know what’s at stake. They know what kind of team we have. They know it’s different. We expect to win, and when we don’t, we’ve got another game tomorrow. They’re in every pitch, every count. ‘A.J.’ chants give you goosebumps on the mound in the 9th inning. It was fun.”

Where else is Burnett going to find that? Liriano might be slightly better right now, but Burnett is the leader of the staff, and the fan favorite. Where else is he going to find that? Even if Gerrit Cole realizes his upside next year as an ace, Burnett is still going to be the leader and the favorite. Even if Jeff Locke never regresses, or if Jameson Taillon comes up and becomes an ace, or if Wandy Rodriguez puts up great numbers, Burnett will be the leader and the favorite.

The Pirates could certainly afford Burnett. They’ve offered 3/$30 M deals in the past to Edwin Jackson and Jorge De La Rosa, only to have those deals turned down. That might have worked out for the best, since they probably would have never traded for Burnett if one of those deals was accepted. So is that what it would take for Burnett? To get an idea, here are the free agent pitchers from the last two years who were 36 or older.


Ryan Dempster – 2/$26.5 M

Dempster received two years and $26.5 M this past off-season for his age 36/37 seasons.

Hiroki Kuroda – 1/$15 M

Kuroda received $15 M for one year from the Yankees for his age 38 season.

Andy Pettitte – 1/$12 M

Pettitte also received a one year deal from the Yankees for $12 M, paying him for his age 41 season.


Hiroki Kuroda – 1/$10 M

Once again, Kuroda got a one year deal from the Yankees. Or maybe the 2012 deal was “once again” since this one came first. This one was at age 37.

The one year deals were higher, but there’s also less risk with a one year deal. Give someone one year, and if they don’t work out, the contract is off the books at the end of the season. Give someone multiple years and if they suffer a big injury, you’re sinking a ton of money in two different seasons. The only two year deal was Ryan Dempster, who got a little over $13 M per year.

One thing about Burnett is that he’s already received his big payday. He has made over $120 M in his career. He also doesn’t seem like he’s looking for the biggest contract, as much as he’s looking for that best situation. So if I had to guess, I’d say a 2/$20 M deal for Burnett would sound about right. That would give him a fair salary, which might be a bit of a hometown discount for the Pirates, while also keeping him around in Pittsburgh to lead what will be a young staff for the next two years.

The Pirates will have a lot of talent in their rotation next year regardless of whether Burnett returns. But it would be nice if they were also able to bring back the leader of the pitching staff.

Links and Notes

**Check out the latest episode of the Pirates Prospects Podcast: P3 Episode 15: Recapping the Slow Deadline; The Pirates Are Legit Playoff Contenders.


**Prospect Watch: Indianapolis Pitchers Strike Out 15 In Blowout Loss.

**Minor League Schedule: Taillon Expected To Make Indianapolis Debut Tonight.

**Alex Dickerson is the Pirates Prospects Player of the Month For July.

**Kris Johnson is the Pirates Prospects Pitcher of the Month For July.

**Jamestown Sends Seven to NYPL All-Star Game.

**DSL Prospect Watch: Dennis Hurtarte Heating Up.


**A.J. Burnett Twirls Complete Game for 5-1 Pirates Win.

**Pirates Notebook: Rubber Band Bryan Morris Providing Versatility.

  • A few comments were made about Polanco only hitting .267 at AA. For a 21 year old, that is excellent. Tore it up in Lo A in 2012 and the Pirates rightfully kept him there all year in his first exposure to a full season. Promoted to Hi A and tore it up and earned a mid-season promotion to AA. You need to look at how he is hitting .267 – is he being overwhelmed? No, he currently has a .370 OBP because he has 26W/20K. Lambo at AA in 2013 – 20W/60K; Dickerson at AA in 2013 – 19W/73K. 7 doubles/1 triple/3 HR, 28 RBI, 10 SB’s in only 150 AB’s. He is exhibiting maturity at the plate well beyond his years. It is not if, it is when and I think he may just get to PNC earlier than expected when this season began…

  • We are talking Jones who can’t hit lefties and Sanchez who just can’t hit.

    • Sanchez has probably held up his end of the platoon about as well as Jones, and I only say about as well because Hurdle continues to play him vs righties, which I can’t stand. Together they’ve OPSed about 750, which I would consider decent. Jones is better than he’s played this year, so I’d inflate that number a little bit if we’re comparing FA vs what we have. There aren’t many players on the market like the one we discussed: Corey Hart, Mike Morse, Juan Rivera, Xavier Nady to name a few. Most of these players are as old as Jones, most older , and each of them have issues, whether it be injury or inconsistent hitting. I wouldn’t want to overpay for that, even if we had the money.

      More consistent talent appears to be in everyday OFers, and even if we do open the checkbook up, we still probably wont be able to out buy the big market teams. Pittsburgh is too small a market to spend like that, and even if we do, our better talent in the minors will suffer.

    • Gaby has a .324 .442 .577 1.019 line against lefties this year which I think disproves your “just can’t hit” theory.

  • ” They’ve offered 3/$30 M deals in the past to Edwin Jackson and Jorge De La Rosa, only to have those deals turned down. ”

    I wasn’t aware this was confirmed info? I thought it was rumor-based only?

    Anyway, to your point, yes, extend Burnett.

  • CalipariFan506
    August 5, 2013 5:34 pm

    Bucco Joe- spare us the spend for the sake of spending schtick. What has happened with the Rays, A’s and Pirates should make you see it’s not necessary. The Cubs, Mets and Angels all spend to spend.

    • Who is talking about spending money for the sake of spending? Do they need to extend Burnett? Of course they do. Do they need another bat in the lineup at RF or 1B? Of course they do. Are we going to sit and wait for another couple of years to see if Polanco is the answer in RF? I certainly hope not.

      • Free agents rarely bring back the value their contracts claim they’re worth. The holes in the lineup currently are only there because of players like Walker and Jones underachieving this year. Even average years from those players bring in not 1 but 2 good bats without the cost.

        And what happens if Polanco tears it up in AAA while your expensive RF only puts up league average numbers? Polanco is the more talented player, but he’s now stuck behind some overpaid shmuck. I’d rather watch Polanco grow in right than overpay for some past-his-prime RF, if only because the free agent is going to want more than 1 year and the talented Polanco shouldn’t be left to rot in AAA when he’s ready.

        And this team has shown in the past with guys like Barajas and Barmes that they wont leave that type of big money on the bench until a massive amount of ABs show the higher paid player to be less effective. In the end, its probably not worth the money

        • Polanco is currently hitting 0.267 at Double A, so I doubt he tears up AAA next year. Hopefully he begins to figure it out by the end of next season, and is a candidate for a promotion to the majors sometime in 2015. So you are obviously happy with the RF manned by Tabata, Snider, or Presley in 2014. Or do you want to rush Polanco to the majors before he is ready?

          • You are gonna be hard-pressed to find any good free agent OF thats only going to want to sign for 1 season. And even if you do, they will be asking for an absurd amount of money for the lack of financial security implied in a 1 year contract. Most good FAs are going to want a contract expanding over 2 or 3 years, which blocks Polanco whenever he is ready. And while he’s stuck, the guy we brought in will probably be less talented. So you end up holding back a potential star in this league, for an expensive, average player. I have faith that Polanco will be up by mid 2014, so maybe some combo of Tabata, Presley, and Lambo hold down RF for a few more months

            • Of course It depends on who you bring in. If he can play both 1st base and RF,he can move to 1st if Polanco is ready in 2015.

              • I certainly hope this imaginary player can consistently play better than Jones/Sanchez at his large salary

  • I have not heard Pirate management crying poverty, they are a terrific management team and being financially sound is vital to the Pirates existence in Pittsburgh, signing players to 200 mil. contracts is not possible for his organization, therefore they need to be aware of the present but also of the future, they might want to take a crack at signing Alvarez to a long term deal soon, if that happens there goes the bank account and talk of signing Burnett will fade into the background.

    • leadoff: I agree with you about the quality of this Senior Management Team. They have set the table for years to come, and any move to get a bat in FA should be met with a resounding NO! Gregory Polanco is at AA and could be in the AFL this Fall. If he does OK, he will possibly start the year at AAA Indy. We add Taillon and Polanco in 2014, and who knows what may come from there.

  • I think they make Burnett a qualifying offer just in case he signs with someone else, so they could get the draft pick. If he retires, as we saw with Derrick Lee, we get nothing. I don’t see them going much above that because they simply don’t have to. For the first time ever, they’d have 5+ qualified starters ready to man the rotation, with a ton of depth left over. Had Wandy stayed healthy and left then i think we give Burnett the 2/23 maybe. With wandy staying, that becomes unlikely. JMAC will be nontendered and Karstens is no longer under team control, we bought out his arbitration and signed him as a 1 year free agent, so he becomes a free agent anyways. Morton will stay as he is still under arbitration and likely will not get a big raise based on his limited contributions the last two years.

    Wandy Rodriguez
    Gerritt Cole
    Jeff Locke
    Francisco Liriano
    Charlie Morton

    with Cumpton, Taillon, Gomez, McPherson, Irwin all quite legit depth options. I think 2 year 23 million would be better spent on an outfield upgrade or a short stop upgrade myself, as much as i like burnett

    • There is no reason that this organization should not be able to do both, sign Burnett and get a bat in free agency. Time to stop crying poverty and open up the checkbook.

  • Tim: The Pirates have some 2013 contracts worth $13 mil with players/pitchers that may or may not be a part of the 2014 Roster:
    1. Clint Barmes $5.5 mil
    2. JMAC $3.0
    3. Jeff Karstens $2.5
    4. Charlie Morton $2.0

    I would say that JMAC and Karstens will be a part of a trade or just gone – too much RH talent coming too quickly (Gomez, Cumpton, Taillon). Barmes, if interested, could be retained for less as a backup to Mercer – $3 mil at most. Morton signed for $2 mil because most of 2013 was going to be a partial rehab year for him. He will be in Arb again after 2013 and a good estimate could be as high as $5 mil. As a $2 mil #5 or possible RP, I think he can help the team, but at $4 or $5 mil when we have possible #5’s such as Gomez, Cumpton, Taillon, or others, and the need to direct money toward signing AJ Burnett, I cannot see making that type of investment.

  • The team will get 25 million in TV money for next yr . Looking at the current makeup of the roster, Pedro is going to get a substantial bump in arbitration. Other than that, the payroll will remain similar to where it is now so money shouldn’t be an issue . AJ said in spring training that he was retiring a Pirate so I will take him at that bc based on his performance, the team will want him back. Hopefully, the Bucs win the World Series and it won’t really matter lol

  • This would be great, but if Burnett was contemplating retirement then I bet he will want to wait until after the season and will be looking for 1 year. $15M looks like a bargain given the season he is having.

    I’ll take Cumpton over Morton right now, myself. And he definitely moves out for Taillon next July.

    • Morton over Cumpton for the rest of 2013 based on veteran experience. However, yes Morton is really nothing more than a 5th (or 6th) starting pitcher. As tim said in the article, you need more than 5 or 6 SPs. I could see Charlie here next season, maybe starting out as the #5 man or long relief. I think they may have to make a decision between Morton and Karstens. I really like Karstens, but his recent injuries have made him expendable, I think.

  • Morton has had issue locating some pitches….i think in time he’ll be fine, he’s just back from TJS, so we’ll see. I hope AJ comes back and I hope the NH pulls out the check book to make a fair offer. If an optional 2nd year is what it takes, then do it…but i could see him getting atleast what Dempster got, he’s pitching better IMO

  • I’d be shocked if AJ coming back next year has anything to do with what contract the Pirates offer him. If he wants to come back, a contract will be worked out. The bigger question is how do the Pirates need to end the season to get him to come back? Will it be enough to simply qualify for the playoffs as a WC? Or do they need to do better? Questions that nobody but AJ could answer…

  • A qualifying offer of $13M makes sense. If another team offers him 3 years and $51M, so be it. The Pirates will receive a draft pick for finishing second. If he wants more, more money or more time, then the Pirates can consider the risks involved. The risks: Eventually, he’ll no longer be able to pitch well because of age or injury. The Pirates must account for these risks because they are a low-revenue team and because of the money they invested in signing and developing amateur pitchers.

  • AJ didn’t ‘push it up’…he gave up ONE run. Frankie threw a shutout (albeit for only 7 inn)

    🙂 🙂


  • He may want to play only one more year. If he stays healthy and wants to come back one more time, I would be willing to offer more than 12.

  • CalipariFan506
    August 5, 2013 7:00 am

    I think they’d be crazy to not just give him a qualifying offer.

    • agree, if you couldn’t come to an agreement – I’d start at 2/$20M and be willing to go to 2/$25M-ish

      • Agree. I wrote 2/$20 in the comments section yesterday, but had forgotten about the Dempster signing. Still think this number is fair to both sides, due to age. But wouldn’t argue with 2/$26.

        One other issue, and I am a huge AJ fan! Will his act start to get stale and the message lost amongst his antics? Again, huge fan and big believer in players not just being robots. Love the animation, attitude, edge, etc., but……………………….

        • No, he backs it up. He and Martin each bring a nice set of balls to the team.

        • will his act start to get stale?

          what ‘act’ is that? That he is a great guy? Takes young pitchers under his wings? I’m not a fan of tattoos (I’m ‘old school’), and that turned me off originally (plus some of the stuff I’d read about him in NY), but I love AJ the human being!

          That’s no ‘act’ he is putting on. He is REAL!


  • I agree Tim that 2-20 would prob be a great starting point to get it done. I just know that I will lose my mind if we let Burnett walk and keep Charlie Moron in the rotation. That will be a sad and dark day.

    • I was very critical of Charlie in a previous thread but the truth is we have won six of his nine starts this year.

      Yes, he drives me crazy also but we could do a lot worse for an end- of-the-rotation and/or spot starter.

      Anyway, I think Huntington wants A.J. back and I think A.J. wants to come back. A deal will get done.

      • Agree, and think Morton has been a bit unlucky this year.

      • Wins are never a good measure of a pitcher.

        But, if we want to dissect those wins:
        Of his 7 starts (not counting the 2 inn ‘rain’ start), he has given up 4 or more runs in 4 of them, 3, 2 and 0. Some have been unearned, but, they still count. He has gotten 31 runs worth of support, 30 in the 6 wins..

        He’s definitely a # 5 starter, but I am hoping he gets replaced soon….Wandy?


        • “3, 2 and 0” in the others.

        • Counting unearned runs seems like some stat twisting…

          • Agreed Kevin- When you have a sinker ball pitcher, whose job is to get ground balls, and then you punish him because his team doesn’t field them, that isn’t his fault. Unless its morton making the errors of course

    • RH II: Was that an intentional missing “t” in the last name? Many of us have noted CM’s seeming loss of attention/concentration during games, and I wonder if that same issue has followed him throughout his career? He certainly has the arm, and when he is moving the ball around in the zone, it is hard to understand how he is not much more successful than he is. But, when a professional pitcher throws the ball inside by 18″ and it is not on purpose?????????????

    • I like next year’s depth better than this year’s…even without Burnett. He would be a big loss but at worst they would probably get a comp pick out of AJ I am guessing. I would not give Burnett a multiyear deal but would love to have him back for one season. If he wants to play one more year and then retire it might be a perfect fit.

      – Fred Langford