First Pitch: Recapping Actual A.J. Burnett News

A.J. Burnett pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates
A.J. Burnett will return in 2014, but he might not return to the Pirates. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

After months of no real updates on the A.J. Burnett saga, and nothing but repeats of the same old news, we finally got an update today. Travis Sawchik reported that Burnett planned to pitch in 2014, and that he would be open to returning to a team other than the Pirates.

I had a bunch of thoughts on the entire Burnett saga, and decided to list them in no specific order. I then went on to sum everything else up at the end. I’ve said most of this stuff before, so you’ve probably heard a lot of it. Well, except for this first part, which is new today.

**First, it’s still possible that the Pirates could re-sign Burnett. I personally don’t think it’s likely. Then again I don’t know any details of the negotiations, what Burnett is asking for, what the Pirates are offering, and what other teams are interested and offering. So basically, I’m like everyone else with an opinion.

**All off-season, the focus has been on the qualifying offer. I said I would have given Burnett the offer. It’s the safe move to make, the Pirates had payroll room, and they could have added another pitcher. That said, the qualifying offer really only matters at this point if you believe one of two things:

1. That the only reason Burnett hasn’t signed yet, and has been so quiet until late January, has been because the Pirates didn’t offer him $14.1 M. Basically, you think that Burnett would have just accepted the offer back in November, rather than going through three months of silence.


2. You believe Burnett would have still been silent until now, but the Pirates would get a draft pick as compensation if he signs elsewhere. I think that’s ignoring the reality of the current market. Kendrys Morales. Ervin Santana. Stephen Drew. Ubaldo Jimenez. Nelson Cruz. These are all guys who are seeking multi-year deals. They’re all guys who have draft pick compensation attached. And none of them are signed in late January. Teams aren’t giving up a draft pick right now for multiple years of Santana or Jimenez, but they’d give up a pick for one year of Burnett? I think if Burnett would have declined the qualifying offer, he would have killed his market with other teams. Then the Pirates would have been in a great position to get him at a below market rate.

**The Pirates did say they wouldn’t be able to give Burnett $14.1 M, citing a big percentage of their payroll. That has been criticized. My question is: why is that considered a bad thing? All around the league, teams get hometown discounts from players. It happened this year with Mike Napoli taking less money to return to Boston. Josh Johnson took less money to go to San Diego. Those teams don’t get those deals by originally offering market value, then having the player say “Oh no, I was going to take less than that because I want to play here”.

**Burnett would definitely improve the Pirates. The way I see it, they’ve signed Edinson Volquez to take Burnett’s spot. The team has said they would still have room for Burnett, but who are they dropping from the rotation? Not Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, or Charlie Morton. They didn’t sign Volquez for $5 M to be a reliever and a sixth starter. And Wandy Rodriguez would be the other option, but the team thinks he’s coming back, and I don’t see them paying him $7.5 M to be a reliever.

So you’ve got Burnett or Volquez. When I did the ZiPS analysis a few weeks ago, I projected 88 wins for the Pirates. Volquez was projected for an 0.2 WAR, while Burnett had a 2.2 WAR in 173.7 innings. So on paper, Burnett adds two wins. I do think the projection for Volquez is low. He was horrible last year, and still had an 0.4 WAR. I think he could repeat his 2012 season under Searage and get a 1.1 WAR. If that was the case, Burnett adds an extra win in this projection. But then you also have the possibility that Burnett’s projection could be low, since he averaged a 3.5 WAR the last two years. Either way, I think you’re talking about a two win difference.

**While Burnett would upgrade the Pirates, I don’t think the Pirates need an upgrade. Burnett is a luxury. Last year when I did the ZiPS projections, I came up with 83 wins. The Pirates obviously exceeded that, and they did so with players like Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and the entire pitching staff as a whole exceeding projections. You can’t count on players exceeding projections, but I think you can make a case that McCutchen, Marte, and the pitching staff are better than their ZiPS WAR projections, meaning that there’s a good chance the team could exceed that 88 win projection. I think the team is a contender without Burnett, and I don’t take the view of “two wins could be the difference between the playoffs and not making the playoffs”. Last year the Pirates had a four game difference between home field in the Wild Card and going to Cincinnati. They could have won 88 games and still would have made the playoffs by two games. The idea that Burnett’s projected to wins would make a crucial difference for the Pirates is basically taking an event that has a small probability, and acting like it’s a certainty.

**I’ve been saying that I don’t think Volquez will be the next Burnett/Liriano. I don’t see him becoming an ace like we saw with those two. Then again, no one really saw that coming with those two. Here are some numbers of all three players in the two years leading up to joining the Pirates:

Player A: 5.20 ERA in 377 IP, 7.6 K/8, 3.8 BB/9, xFIP by year: 4.49/3.86

Player B: 5.23 ERA in 291 IP, 8.6 K/9, 5.0 BB/9, xFIP by year: 4.52/4.14

Player C: 4.90 ERA in 353 IP, 8.1 K/9, 4.6 BB/9, xFIP by year: 4.20/4.07

Which guy would you pick? If you go by xFIP in the most recent year, it would probably be A. If you go by consistency of xFIP, it would be C. If you go by actual results, it would be C. If you’re scared by the control numbers, it would be A. And pretty much no one would take B, since that player had injury problems, the worst control, and the worst xFIP by year.

A is Burnett. B is Liriano. C is Volquez. Right now, Volquez doesn’t look like he will be an ace. He doesn’t look like he could be better than a guy who can post league average numbers at around 180 innings per year. But coming into the system, he looks about the same as Burnett and Liriano did. Neither of those guys screamed “ace”. Even when I was reporting how good Liriano looked in his rehab appearances last year, there were people who downplayed him, saying the Pirates shouldn’t expect big things out of him.

People are down on Volquez because of those bad numbers — the same bad numbers that Liriano and Burnett had before joining the Pirates. I’ve said that I don’t have a lot of confidence that Volquez will be as successful as Burnett or Liriano. I’ve also pointed out that I don’t have the resources the Pirates have. I don’t have the stats department or the pro scouts who found all three players. I don’t know the plan from Ray Searage and company for Volquez. I don’t know how much Volquez will benefit from the Pirates’ defense, from the shifts, from Russell Martin’s pitch framing, and everything else that Burnett and Liriano benefitted from. So I’m not going to rule out that Volquez can be better than a league average pitcher who puts up a lot of innings, and I won’t rule out that he could be this year’s breakout pitcher.

The Summary

Here is where we are with Burnett: the same place we’ve always been — he may or may not come back to the Pirates. Before it was “Pirates or retire”, and now we know that Burnett isn’t retiring and would consider teams other than the Pirates. The Pirates can still sign him. If they want, they can spend the $14.1 M. That would make more sense now than it did a few months ago, since they don’t need to make room in the budget for someone like James Loney. Burnett would be an upgrade on paper over Edinson Volquez.

The question is, do the Pirates need Burnett? I’d say that depends on how you view the Pirates and whether you think they are contenders, but that’s wrong. If you think that Burnett is the difference between the Pirates being a good team and a bad team, then you don’t understand individual player values. Really, this all depends on how much you trust Ray Searage and the process that led to Burnett and Liriano. No one thinks Volquez has much of a chance of being an ace, but no one thought that about the previous two pitchers. As you can see by the numbers above, a lot of the disgust with Volquez (his horrible numbers) were the same, or worse, for Burnett and Liriano.

If Burnett signs elsewhere, it’s not going to break the Pirates. They’re contenders without him. The team is almost exactly the same team as last year, and I think it’s better. Burnett is gone, but they have an extra half season from Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, and an extra month from Francisco Liriano. They won’t have one month of Marlon Byrd at the end of the year, but they’ll get Gregory Polanco for 2-3 months. The mid-season boost from Gerrit Cole will come from Jameson Taillon this year. Jordy Mercer will be in the majors from day one providing above-average offense at shortstop. Andrew Lambo probably won’t be worse than Garrett Jones or Justin Morneau were in 2013. And most of the rest of the team is young, so you shouldn’t expect any massive declines in performance, and could see some improvements.

My stance on this whole situation is the same as it has always been. If I had the choice, I’d take Burnett for $14.1 M over Volquez for $5 M. I’d take that because it’s the safe move. It’s the move that looks right on the surface, to anyone looking in from the outside who isn’t qualified to run a baseball team, which is pretty much everyone giving reactions. But I’m also willing to admit that I don’t have all of the information here. I don’t have the resources the Pirates have that led to them signing Volquez. Considering Volquez looks just as bad as Burnett and Liriano did, and considering the Pirates turned those two around in a huge way, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt here.



Links and Notes

**The 2014 Prospect Guide is now available. You can purchase your copy here, and read about every prospect in the Pirates’ system. The book includes our top 50 prospects, as well as future potential ratings for every player.

**We have been releasing our top 20 prospects for the 2014 season, and this week we conclude the countdown with the top five. Today the countdown resumed with #4 – Austin Meadows.

**A.J. Burnett Will Pitch In 2014

**Pirates Rank Third in Keith Law’s Farm System Ratings

**Winter Leagues: Polanco and Escogido on Verge of Elimination

  • Generally I’d agree.
    Only a very selected few veterans could handle that scenario. I believe AJ would be one of them!

  • i don’t like pitchers coming into a team midway through- spring training is necessary IMO

  • To me, the best scenario for both sides would be to get AJ for 2/3 of the Season, starting June. That way we get to see what we got with Wandy and Volquez the first 2 months (if either bombs, we still have Locke & Cumpton), plus injuries will happen.
    And for Burnet, at his age he can log some 130 Innings, and be in Top of his Game for Playoff time. $8M for 2/3 of a Season?

  • CalipariFan506
    January 29, 2014 5:35 pm

    I hate Burnett so this is good news to me.

    • Now THAT is the funniest take on it Calipari !

      • CalipariFan506
        January 29, 2014 7:36 pm

        Not big on drama and Burnett can’t decide what he wants to eat for breakfast each morning without making the process dramatic.

    • I don’t really like him either, but he IS good, and Volquez IS not. I like Tims comparison- i wouldn’t take any of those 3 players, but again in terms of trying to prove a point I get it, but Liriano DID have previous success and was a ROY candidate, Burnett DID have success and was making 15 million a year, which he didn’t get from being horrible. With Volquez, we see no 1 individual year that can ever be called a success, nothing to bring up video and say……THIS was what you were doing when you were pitching well, lets get back to it.

      You gotta go out and get Burnett because if he signs for another team, you look really bad for not securing the draft pick or at LEAST ensuring he can’t play with someone else. The last thing we need is Burnett beating us in the playoffs.

  • One other thing the Pirates have going this year is they will or should have Josh Harrison from day one instead of the terrible hitting of Brandon Inge.
    If they’d had Harrison instead of Inge those first 2-3 months, they would have had a legitimate bat off the bench who clobbers lefthanders.

  • i posted quote up higher higher, but i’m saying it again here and adding thoughts… When NH gave that “market rate” talk, there was a paragraph at the end that we’ve forgotten about.

    “There is money available, but the question is how do we build around A.J.? We’ve got some other soft spots to address, and where do we go there with the money that A.J. may ultimately cost us?”

    To me, that means “I’d rather have Josh Johnson and James Loney for $15 million than bid against ourselves by offering AJ more than we have to. it’s us or retirement at this juncture.” The situation has changed. Johnson and Loney are gone, and they are no longer just bidding against themselves and retirement. An attempt at the discounted rate was a worthwhile risk at the time.

    I know i’d rather have Johnson AND Loney (or Burnett for 8.5 and Loney) than Burnett. it just stinks that Johnson picked the Padres despite their lower offer and the Rays were willing to go the extra year on Loney.

    Now that they’re gone, i see no reason why the Pirates can’t compete with any team vying for his services. They were (IMO) justified in going for the discounted rate early on. Now that there are more teams in the mix and less guys worth spending significant money on for 1b, they can now internally raise their best offer for AJ.

  • the idea of all of these prospects filling major league rolls on a supposedly playoff type team has to be bothersome doesn’t it. NO AJ then what tallion has to be cole, polanco has to be someone else this is not the way to run a major league team if you think you can make the playoffs pay aj it will not kill the team money wise & if it does then Nutting needs to sell he isn’t qualified to own a franchise due to lack of funds

    • All what prospects? I guess we can dream about a Pirate roster constituted similar to the veteran laden Cardinals, but that would just be a dream. Or would it. Let’s see:

      The Cards are counting on Kolton Wong (62 MLB PAs w/ wOBA of .168) to be the every day 2B and the Bucs are counting on Lambo (33 MLB PAs w/ .311 wOBA) to probably be the 1B 80% of the time. Advantage: Toss up.

      The Cards are counting on Matt Adams (1.4 career WAR in 410 MLB PAs) to play a bigger role this year and the Bucs are counting on Mercer (career 1.7 WAR in 433 MLB PAs) to do the same. Advantage: Toss up.

      Other positions are comparable in experience as well, except the Bucs don’t have guys as old as Holliday and Peralta starting every day. You may think that gives the Cards an edge, I don’t. Either way, I don’t consider Marte, Walker, Pedro and Tabata to be prospects, but rather established MLB players with room to exceed their career stats.

      I suppose I’ll concede their pitching prospects were brought up last year, while we only brought up Cole and still have Taillon and Kingham as possibilties this year, and Glasnow in 2015. So we’re a year behind them on that. But it worked pretty well for the Cards last year, counting on those pitching “prospects” as they were contending for the playoffs, no?

      Long story short (I know, way too late for that), the Bucs are always going to be breaking in a prospect or two each year. They are never going to go all Yankees and sign a roster of free agents. Just accept it until it starts not working out as well as it did last year (Mercer, Cole, Wilson and even Locke). They can’t change their M.O. just because expectations are higher now.

  • Hearing on 93.7 The Fan that there are reports that AJ is looking to stay close to home obviously, and he is seeking 14 mil for this year. With Garza getting 13.5, you would think AJ can get 14. Now, how close to 14 will the Bucco’s offer to AJ be now that he wants to pitch?

  • Great stuff (as always)!!!

    I must say that this article really elevated my opinion on Volquez from ungodly horror to just ewww. I’ve kind of thought of Volquez as more of a Jonathan Sanchez Pirate than a Frankie Liriano Pirate. The blind player comparison really helps that tho. I added Sanchez as Player D and he was really way way way more awful than i’d given him ‘credit’ for.
    Player A (Burnett): 5.20 ERA in 377 IP, 7.6 K/8, 3.8 BB/9, xFIP by year: 4.49/3.86
    Player B (Volquez): 5.23 ERA in 291 IP, 8.6 K/9, 5.0 BB/9, xFIP by year: 4.52/4.14
    Player C (Liriano): 4.90 ERA in 353 IP, 8.1 K/9, 4.6 BB/9, xFIP by year: 4.20/4.07
    Player D (J Sanchez): 5.75 ERA in 166 IP, 7.9 K/9, 6.67BB/9, xFIP by year: 4.36/6.46

  • Tim, thoughtful and mature anaysis as always. You make some great points. From a non-statistical stand point I think the Bucs are losing a lot here. I think the pitching staff as a whole benefited from AJ’s leadership presence. I’m worried that he was worth closer to ten wins last year if you factor in the fact tat he had a real impact on early Locke and late Cole. Probably helped take a lot of pressure off of Morton and Liriano.

    • I think the counter to this would be: why does Burnett only have an impact on the good stuff? If he was responsible for early Locke, then what happened to second half Locke? Same with James McDonald, who was working with Burnett the previous year.

      • Well Tim maybe the league caught up with both of those guys in the second half as often happens in baseball. I feel like you can separate the two things. If you want to look at it in your matter of fact way then you can say Ray Searage had a great first half with Locke and McDonald and so it must be Ray’s fault. I believe that the bad second half were all on Locke and McDonald and no one else.

    • 10 wins ? Seriously ?

    • I’ll outdo you all. I think AJ was directly responsible for 94 wins last year, plus 3 in the playoffs. And if Hurdle had listened to his outbursts on bullpen usage and defensive shifts, they’d have won 157 games (nothing he could do about Jonathon Sanchez’s 5 starts).

      Seriously, AJ was a 4 win player last year. If the Bucs only had replacement level for him (and with Cumpton, Jeanmar, etc, that’s a bad assumption), they still would have won 90 games and made the playoffs rather easily. All hope is not lost. Now I do believe in intangibles, and feel AJ helped the Bucs out in 2012 and the first half of 2013. But his performance dropped off noticeably in the second half and I think his “positive influence” did along with it.

      Another thing, AJ’s never had 3 straight years of 3 or more WAR. If you think he’s gonna do it for the first time at age 37, well I hope you’re not a gambling man. I think 1.5 – 2.5 WAR is most likely in PIT, and 0.5 – 1.5 in a less forgiving park and with worse defense in PHIL or BALT. $10 mil is a pretty fair offer considering he’s kind of a luxury for the Bucs. If he wants to squeeze every last dollar from a team, he’ll probably get $2 or $3 mil more (net after the gub’ment and his agent take their respective shares). Now I’d crawl to PHIL or BALT through broken glass for that $2 or $3 mil, but he’s earned well over $100 mil in his career, so his perspective would be weighing those extra dollars against the chance to contend and ride off into the sunset with a team he’s already established a relationship with.

      Of course all of this assumes the Bucs haven’t decided his intangibles aren’t outweighed by all of the pouting and shouting.

      If he’s really upset about not being selected for the season’s final game, it’s a shame. Because if he signs with either PHIL or BALT, his lasting memory will probably be much worse than that.

      • In all fairness Stcky, the Os are a good defensive team also. But I do agree with the main poin of your comment.

  • My guess is that AJ will sign with Baltimore where he’ll be able to live at home during the season and he’ll have a chance to pitch against the Yankees.

    • Not sure AJ’s gonna like a return to AL East or the new Yankee stadium. Brutal against righties. Beats having to pitch with the statue of Jeter planted between 2nd & 3rd, but he would routinely face some tough bats in tough parks.

  • While I can appreciate comparing the prior two seasons stats of AJ, Frankie, and Volquez before signing with the club. I really don’t see how you can compare Volquez with the other two. He pitched in the NL number one, and was in some pretty friendly pitchers parks the last couple years. Don’t think you can say nearly the same thing about the American League and the parks AJ and Frankie pitched in before arriving. I just don’t think all things are equal in the comparison of the three. And I don’t see Volquez being nearly as strong for the Bucs. Hope I’m wrong, but I see a mid to upper 4’s era. And that’s with our top notch defense behind him.

    • Hand, while I willingly concede Volquez has pitched in the easier league and more favorable parks (really not sure about the defenses), to hear commenters on the topic, you would swear his ERA and FIP were about twice the other guys and his BB% was approaching infinity.

      Just interesting to hear he’s in the same ballpark as the other two, so to speak.

    • Cato the Elder
      January 29, 2014 6:04 pm

      xFIP accounts for park differences.

  • There is only 1 competitive team close to Monkton Md.,and that is the Nats. And I would think that they can get a number 4 or 5 starter a lot cheaper than $ 8.5 mil plus

    • Cato the Elder
      January 29, 2014 11:30 am

      Baltimore is only one year removed from a playoff appearance (just like the Nats) and finished with only 1 less win than Washington. I’d say team who finished 85-77 last year and 93-69 the year before that is “competitive.” Plus, unlike Washington, the O’s need starting pitching (and badly).

      • Actually the starters for Baltimore are not awful – at least by ZIPS projections – it could be argued that AJ makes them 1-2 wins better – and takes some the pressure off of Tillman – dropping him to #2 and Chen drops to #3 – which helps them both. But he makes the Pirates 2-4 wins better… And yes – the Orioles will have a chance at the Wild Card – they were David Priced out of it last year…

      • Competitive with the Yankees,Rays and Red Sox ??? And playing in a relative bandbox ? Good luck.

  • Sorry Tim, but I think your article is off a bit regarding the overall stance from the beginning with AJ.

    Your statement in position number 2, totally ignores one thing. AJ could not have remained silent. By offering the QO, AJ would not have been able to sit back until almost Spring Training to state his intentions. He would have either had to accept or reject the offer. If he accepted it, we don’t go out and look for another reclamation project. If he turns it down, you have the draft pick for compensation and you are not sitting and waiting in a tight money market trying to play the “what if” game.

    It has been my stance since day one that the Pirate’s FO bungled this move right from the start, and the only way the FO can look good here is if they sign AJ for less then 14M (unlikely) or if AJ pitches for someone else and bombs (would serve AJ right after this).

    Any attempt to justify the Pirates and the FO handling of this affair from the start, and its aftermath, is pointless.

    • If he rejected the offer, he wouldn’t have to state his intentions. He’d just be saying that he wasn’t ready to make a decision at that point.

      • Correct, but he wouldn’t be able to sign with another team without the Pirates getting a draft choice. It would also have driven his FA cost down since he would have been tied to a comp pick.

  • I’m a big A J fan from his time with the Pirates but I’m a Pirate fan first so whatever the team does I hope it is a smart move and improves the team. I believe like Tim that the team is going to compete with or without A J. I really am not interested in all the speculation of why things played out like they did with A J from the lack of a QO to now. As far as that goes I’m never very interested in the drama of all the money involved in professional sports. The Pirates are stocked with a lot of good young players at all levels and in my 50 years of following baseball, teams that build on that usually are competitive year after year. I’m not big on these multi-year big free agent contracts. I posted a link the other to an article that showed only 5 free agents earned their big contract by the end of it since 1999. Some had one or two good years, but these five were consistent throughout the life of the contract. That is a really low percentage.

  • I have nothing to add on the Burnett saga; however one crucial difference between Volquez and Burnett/Liriano is the amount of money the Pirates were willing to invest in each. Volquez 1/$5 million, Liriano 2/$12.75 million (prior to arm fx), Burnett 2/$13 million. Yes, Volquez has potential but the degree of investment the Pirates have made should tell us something about what the Pirates view as his upside or likelihood of achieving that potential.

  • Tim, as usual, a very good article. I was going to make the same point that the Pirates would never see the comp draft pick because of AJ’s age and talk of retirement. So it was play here or lose him with no comp pick, just like it still is. And if it does sign with another team, from the Bucs perspective, that is exacly the same as him retiring (except for the 1 start he may have against them)

    Your listing of stats for AJ, Frankie and Edinson amazes me. I’ve chided many a commenter that nobody did back flips over either of those deals, and more than a few have come back saying they loved them from day 1. For the record, I thought the AJ deal was borderline useless, but knew we didn’t give up anything and thought he may give us #3 or #4 stats. I liked the Liriano signing more for 2 reasons: a) his age and b) I remembered his great years. If I knew his most recent years were as bad as they were, I’d have liked the deal a lot less. Either way, I didn’t expect a CY candidate.

    That Volquez has actually been as good as or better than those 2 for the last 2 years is amazing considering all the vitriol being spewn at him and the signing. I’ve gone from thinking it was a decent signing for SP depth to being pissed the Bucs didn’t get a $6 million option year with a $500K buyout.

    All I can predict with certainty is that if Volquez does post good #2 stats, the 5% of fans (and that’s probably generous) that now like the signing will turn into about 90% that swear they loved it from day 1.

    Either way, if AJ signs with either PHIL or BALT, I don’t see it working out too well. Philly won’t contend, the park and defense will hurt his #s, and can you see his act playing well with the vets that have given their whole career to that franchise? As for the Orioles, same thing with the park and defense, and I feel almost as sorry for them being in the same division as BOS, NYY and TB as I do for the Cubs and Brewers being in the same division as STL, PIT and CIN.

  • Great article Tim – and it will be interesting to see how this plays out. The Pirate fan in me is hopeful that Taillon and Polanco turn out to be awesome – the Superstars many commenters feel they will be. I am a bit more of a cynic – I see them both has having a lot of POTENTIAL – but neither of them is a top ten prospect – and even top 10 prospects bomb 50% of the time. My frustration with this situation is that it did not need to happen – the QO could easily have been made – with the caveat that the Pirates want to be fair with AJ given all he has meant to the team and they would be open to negotiating a multiyear deal – 2- if AJ was willing. He is 37 – and yes he may implode – so might Cole or anyone else. BUT the best projection is past performance and he delivered a 3 WAR in 2012 and a 4 in 2013 – yes he may regress a bit from 4 – but even 2 years of 2.5 WAR is worth $32-35 million. He is filthy at PNC – xFIP is 2.59 with a 10+ K rate – away he is OK – but not as spectacular. I really hope the 2-4 win difference that Burnett makes does not cost this team a playoff spot and the revenue that comes from being close in September and in the playoffs in October – if it does the FO will only have itself to blame.

  • Cato the Elder
    January 29, 2014 9:25 am

    “The Pirates did say they wouldn’t be able to give Burnett $14.1 M…”

    Did they actually say this, or did they say they couldn’t pay AJ the market rate? If they said “market rate” then that has two possible interpretations: 1) the market rate is set by the QO so $14.1 million, or 2) the market rate is set by what teams pay free agents on the open market ~$6.5 – $7 mil per WAR. in which case a 3.5 WAR would garner $22-24 million. Personally, I don’t think the difference is academic.

  • If AJ does go to the Orioles or Phillies, this is simply a money grab, which would surprise me. Neither team is likely to compete in their respective divisions, therefore can only be going for the money. The Nationals, which I have never heard were interested, would at least make sense, as they are close to his home and are definitely contenders. Otherwise, if he is the competitor he says he is, the Pirates are his best option.

    And when $8-$10M becomes something to sneeze at for a 37 year old pitcher with his history…………………………….

  • Using ZiPS data, fangraphs pegs the Pirates for 84 projected wins. They rank 6th in the NL. That has them on the outside of the playoffs looking in. So 2 wins can make a big difference. Lots of teams have missed the playoffs by 2 games or less. When Hardball Times started evaluating win curves 7 years they valued the Pirates 90th win as worth an additional $1.7 M in revenue. I’m sure that number had appreciated quite a bit for a variety of reasons. Bottom line is the difference between AJ and Volquez would come close to paying for itself.

  • If they decide they need another starter, they can

    1) find what is probably great value in Paul Maholm, Chris Capuano. Take a flier on Tommy Hanson. Heck. Even Erik Bedard wouldn’t be the *worst* guy to bring in.

    2) let’s just say that the new TV money will let them bring in one very good player. what position would you buy a player for 15-20 mil a year for 5ish years? if your answer is SP, then they could enter the Ubaldo, Santana sweepstakes. (personally, as i said in another thread recently, i’d just wait and go hard after Sandoval or Headley next winter. Pedro – Sanchez for 1b, Sandoval or Headley move to 1b if/when Pedro leaves for FA. Bother are better defenders at 3b. Getting ahead of myself there, but i just wanted to share what *I* would do with the extra TV money instead of entering the Ubaldo Santana stuff.)

    • Jaygray, didn’t NH already say that he wouldn’t tie up $14 mil in one ballplayer, let alone $15 mil?

      • He said that back in december when there might have been better ways to use that 14. perhaps the pirates win more games with Josh Johnson and James Loney for about that price? He said that he was uncomfortable going 14 because of other things that could be done to the team. it wasnt as simple as “i will not pay 14 mil for anybody.” At least i think that’s how the quote went. it was about the team and not JUST AJ.

        They’ve paid market value when it’s made sense (Martin). The system is deep (understatement) in OF. Mercer and Hanson should handle MI fine. Sanchez and McGuire should have C covered for the next decade. the SP is deep. NH pulls relievers out of thin air like a bad magician and fake coins.

        a decent offensive and defensive 3b is where it makes sense to make a Russell Martin-esque investment in 2015. That’s an optimal use of 10-15 per year since they won’t have to use that money anywhere else. Just like it makes a ton of sense to spend 14 or more on AJ NOW because the Loneys and Johnsons are gone. The landscape has changed. AJ might not have been optimal use of 14 mil back in december, but he is now.

        • for reference, here is the part of the NH quote that is now ignored…

          “There is money available, but the question is how do we build around A.J.? We’ve got some other soft spots to address, and where do we go there with the money that A.J. may ultimately cost us?”

          sounds kind of like plan A would have been to spread that to other players instead of just to AJ. now that those players are gone, those dollars can go to AJ now.

  • Wandy is the wild card for me. If he can’t pitch, AJ would be needed.

  • Tim: Thanks for the update from the brief news yesterday. I think we generally overreacted. AJ Burnett is somebody who helped push this franchise over the top, get the huge monkey of 20 years of failure off our backs, and give these guys the confidence it takes to win 90+ games. Talent will get you just so far – teamwork and confidence takes a team that extra step. That said, if we have AJ it would be great because the first thing I would do is try to make a deal involving Liriano for prospects before the season starts. That trade will eventually happen during 2014, and his value is at it’s highest level right now. AJ would give us the fallback position to make that trade.

    AJ is a smart guy and pitching in Philly in that bandbox is what almost killed his career pitching in the bandbox in New York. B’more is not much better – both parks are launching pads. PNC is one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the majors where he will have a solid infield and possibly the best defensive OF in the majors. If he wants to go elsewhere so what? Yes, I would have liked to have had a supplemental pick if we had made a QO, but I think the Pirates knowingly gave him the ability to be able to make the move if that is what he wanted or needed to do. We will miss the leadership and team building personality he provided, but if he wants to leave, GOOD LUCK, and thank you for leaving this team much better than when you arrived.

    • I have a hard time understanding why you would want to trade Liriano right now? Spring training will be starting soon and he is our ace currently on a team that expects to contend. Unless you think he is going to fall on his face. I do not. Also if we did trade him, why for more prospects? We have a loaded system and are trying to contend. How about addressing the one questionable spot 1B, if we are trading Liriano. How about Liriano and one of our lower level pitchers for B. Belt. I would not trade Liriano right now but if I did it would be for immediate major league help. I know we can never have too many prospects but to trade our ace would have to net proven MLB quality, in my opinion.

      • “Unless you think he will fall on his face”. Not to invoke the il malocchio or Maloik (evil eye), but the Pirates have two SP’s who have had difficulty stringing successful seasons together. One is Francisco Liriano. He had his best season in 2013 with a record of 16-8, low 3’s ERA – through the years, starting in 2006, he had some good years, but in between them good years he had two or 3 bad years. With that type of track record, I would opt to play the Law of Averages and trade him before the season, but only if we have a solid #1 like Burnett.

        I can agree with someone like Belt rather than prospects, but I thought the Giants were sort of flush with SP’s. I thought teams he would attract attention from would be the Mariners, Yankees, and possibly the Angels. And you can see, I do not want him pitching against us in the NL.

    • JollyRogerFan
      January 29, 2014 7:27 am

      I agee with you emjayinTN. If the Pirates had locked up Burnett for one more year(which is the part of your argument that has not happened), then and only then would I have traded Liriano to take advantage of his high value right now. As I see it, the Pirates have a stocked system in only 2-3 positions- OF, starting pitching and catchers. They are weak at 3B, 1B (although this position can usually be covered by other positions) and SS. The jury is still out on whether Hanson can stay at SS – and even at that he is our only solid option right now. Unless you believe that Locke can put together a whole season similar to his 1st half last year (I am very skeptical), the Pirates as currently configured do not really have a solid reliable starting LHP close to the majors. After trading Liriano for a great 3B, SS prospect or Brandon Belt, I would have pursued signing Paul Maholm vs. signing Volquez. As a plan B or C option, I would have made plans to prepare Justin Wilson for the starting rotation so that another solid lefty was ready to step into Liriano’s place. If Lirano has another good year and Alvarez continues to hit for power, the Pirates will not be able to afford a LT contract with either of them. There are options that they could have pursued this off-season to address both issues while not hurting their short term competitveness and enhancing their long term competitiveness. I think a lineup with Burnett and Maholm(with Wilson as a plan B option) is at least as good as and probably better than Liriano and Volquez. And, in the mean time by trading Lirano, you could have addressed the 3B, SS or immediate 1B holes in our system.

      • JR: Justin Wilson is a personal favorite of mine and has been one since I saw him in the College World Series, pitching Fresno State to the CWS Title. He was not their best pitcher, but when the #1 went down with injury, he stepped up and, as I recall, pitched two of the best games in CWS history. He has been the “sleeper” all the way through the minors and every so often jumps up with a No-Hitter – he has that kind of stuff. And, nobody can question the heart of Paul Maholm – we just could not afford his option year for 9.5 mil? He has remained in that $5 mil area, but he would only be needed if Wandy is unable to go. He is in the last year of a contract and is getting $14 mil – if he wants to get a taker in the Free Agent market, he has to step up in 2014.

      • You are my freaking hero- i agree with everything here.

  • Tim, great article as always, your site is a real favourite of mine all the way over in Australia (do I qualify as the farthest flung Pirates fan???). I agree with the comments from scnumber 23 as well. I think that there has been a lot of nashing and thrashing over the AJ situation. It seems like there are those out there in the “fan base (???) who are quick to jump on the FO. Yes they made plenty of mistakes, but don’t they deserve a lot of credit for taking a risk on Liriano, bringing on Russell, the trade for Melancon, etc. Also I do seem to remember that this club somehow managed to win 94, won the wild card (at home!) and took the NLDS to 5 games against the NL champion. Who wouldn’t have been thrilled with that the start of last year, especially with the dismal end to 2012? Tjhe script remains to be written on the AJ story, where he will sign (if anywhere) and how he will pitch (he’d be smart to stay away from the NL East!). I am concerned that there may be some regression in win totals as that often happens after a team makes a big leap (79 in 2012, 94 in 2013, so I would say that 86 – 88 wins would be huge. And speaking of huge, they do have 2 possibly huge, possibly superstar additions to the team in June. Name one team in baseball that wouldn’t want to have one of either Taillon or Planco coming up, we have both. Maybe after so many years of drought and the great year last year fans have gotten a little spoiled; I would be happy to see this team win 86 next year and play competitively, I think they are suprebly positioned to be strong in 2016 and 2017. It does seem that there is a reflexive tendency to whinge at what the FO does or doesn’t do. How about being happy with how far this team has progressed!!!!!!

    • hey Roberrto21, as to the mantle of farthest flung Pirate, I cant comment on your status, but as my tag suggests, I’m from Adelaide, the capital of sweltering South Australia. Happy 102F to you all.

      Re the AJ saga, its a shame that he’s apparently gone back on his public position of Pirates or pension, but that’s business I suppose. I feel confident that the rotation will stand up over the season.

  • Tim, great article and I agree with all of it except I wouldn’t pay Burnett 14.1 mil. I think Burnett is near the end and I also don’t think his heart is 100 percent in to playing. My guess is he decided after 4 months of debate, that he wants one more pay day. I’m not saying I wouldn’t welcome him back and I do consider him an upgrade on Volquez but not at that price.

    I agree that the team will be better this year but it doesn’t mean 94 or more wins will happen. I expect somewhere between 86 and 96 wins. Hopefully on the higher end of that.

    I think Taillon and Polonco will be huge mid season additions. I also think Volquez will be better than people think. Not great but a solid 4 or 5. I hope they look in to extending Liriano past this year.

    Question for people out there. If Liriano puts up another year similar to last year, should the Pirates extend a qualifying offer to him? This of course is if he hasn’t been extended. I personally think they should. I love our young right handed pitching but I hope they keep Liriano past this year as the one big lefty. If he falls apart this year then no but I think he will be solid again and he is about 6 years younger than Burnett.

  • I think there are 2 possible explanations if Burnett signs with another team. The money is just too attractive to retire now. Or, he is really ticked that Hurdle chose Cole to start that last playoff game against St. Louis. Given that money seems to be the primary motivator for most baseball players, I would expect the first option to be more likely.

    Tim, I think you are a little more optimistic about this year’s team than I am. The biggest thing is that the Pirates took a big step forward last year. When other teams in the past did this, the following year more often than not saw a regression. I also don’t expect Taillon to come up and be as successful as Cole was last year. Cole surprised me with his consistency and then late season dominance. I expect most new pitchers to be inconsistent and struggle some times.

    • I had thought about this (the playoff start) as a possibility for not retiring and moving on from the Bucs as soon as I saw the article yesterday. Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t recall seeing anything from Burnett publicly since that decision was made. Which, by the way, was the absolute right decision. No question that Cole was the best pitcher on that staff down the stretch, regardless of venue and situation. I sure hope that is not driving the motivation of Burnett.