It appears veteran pitcher A.J. Burnett is not ready to hang it up after all.
Multiple national outlets reported Tuesday that Burnett, 37, has decided to pitch again in 2014 and might test the open market for a team other than the Pirates.
Burnett, whose will-he-or-won’t-he-retire saga has dominated offseason Pirates talk, indicated at the end of 2013 that he would likely return to the Pirates if he did not retire.
The Pirates remain interested in re-signing Burnett, but at exactly what price is unclear.
Reached Tuesday, general manager Neal Huntington said in a text message: “Our process continues with A.J.,” but that there was nothing new to report from the team’s end.
The Pirates did not extend Burnett a qualifying offer of $14.1 million in November, which would have given them exclusive negotiating rights first and also guaranteed draft-pick compensation if he signed elsewhere.
Huntington later told MLB.com he was not aware that Burnett had decided to hit the open market.
“I can’t say he has not. I’m not aware of every discussion there might have been,” Huntington told the website. “All I can say is, he has been very public with his intent to pitch in Pittsburgh or not pitch at all.
“Do I blindly put faith in that? No. But he’s been very open with us and continues to be very open.”
Reports have periodically popped up about two team in particular that would have interest in Burnett if he chose to return somewhere other than Pittsburgh — the Baltimore Orioles and the Philadelphia Phillies.
Burnett’s home in Monkton, Md., is within a reasonable drive from the Orioles’ Camden Yards, which would give him ample family time, and the Phillies appear predisposed to stock the roster with players upward of 35 years old.
It’s hard to argue that Burnett’s value has diminished.
He struck out more than a batter per inning in 2013 — 209 in 191 innings — and finished the year with a 3.30 ERA. He was 10-11 and had the best ground-ball rate in baseball at 56.3.
Burnett was passed over in favor of rookie Gerrit Cole for the deciding Game 5 of the National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, opening questions about his future viability.
CBS Sports, Fox and ESPN each cited unnamed sources Tuesday that Burnett has decided to return to the game.
Calls to Burnett and his agent by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette were not returned.
Burnett made $16.5 million last season in the final year of a five-year, $82.5 million contract he signed with the New York Yankees, and $8 million of that was paid by the Yankees.
Huntington has repeatedly said the club is allowing “the process” to play out while being respectful of Burnett’s timeline in making a decision about retirement.
Pitching coach Ray Searage told the Post-Gazette last week that he was going forward without Burnett in the Pirates plans at spring training, but said he heard Burnett was still working out.
“With A.J. and the previous two years, he’s got a program,” Searage said.
“From all indications, from the rumor mill, he’s staying close to it.”
Burnett has not spoken publicly about his current decision and has been quiet for much of the offseason about his intentions.
Jenn Menendez: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @JennMenendez. First Published January 28, 2014 5:05 PM