The Pirates have stated multiple times they want A.J. Burnett back next season. Burnett has said more than once that if he plays in 2014 it will be in Pittsburgh.
Both sides are being a bit disingenuous.
• The Pirates are by claiming they want Burnett -- no kidding! -- but failing to indicate what they’d be willing to pay for his services.
• Burnett is by repeatedly saying what fans want to hear -- Pittsburgh is his choice -- but then adding this disclaimer in a radio interview: "As of right now, that's where my mind is, as of right now."
So ... do the Pirates really want Burnett? And does A.J. really want the Pirates? There’s one guaranteed way to find out and it all can be handled in the next 10 days.
The Pirates have until 5 p.m. on the fifth day following the conclusion of the World Series to make what is known as a qualifying offer to Burnett. The amount of that offer is $14.1 million, as dictated by a formula in the collective bargaining agreement. The plus to such an offer is that if Burnett rejects it and signs elsewhere, the Pirates get a late first-round draft choice as compensation.
Burnett has until 5 p.m. on the seventh day following the conclusion of the Series to let the Pirates know if he accepts their offer.
If Burnett wants to play in 2014, he will not quickly dismiss the $14.1 million offer. For one thing, that’s a lot of money, even for someone who has earned $120 million in his career. For another, the offer, if rejected, will turn off potential suitors because they won’t want to lose a top draft choice, which is the price for signing a player who snubs a qualifying offer.
For example: Kyle Lohse was coming off an exceptional year in 2012. He finished fifth and fourth, respectively, in the National League in ERA and WHIP. But once he rejected a qualifying offer from St. Louis, his attractiveness to other teams declined appreciably. He had to wait until March to get a deal, and it was a good one -- three years, $33 million -- but, because of the qualifying offer, not what many expected him to receive.
Burnett is coming off a lesser year -- 21st in both ERA and WHIP -- and he will be more than two years older than Lohse was when Lohse hit free agency.
Burnett might not be worth $14.1 million and that’s particularly true of the Pirates who don’t like to overpay. But the value of good pitching cannot be underestimated. We are seeing that in the postseason, where pitching once again rules.
A Pirates rotation of Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton and Wandy Rodriguez/Jeff Locke/Jameson Taillon would be impressive and the team’s best in a long, long time.
Another reason to offer Burnett: Since there are no guarantees the Pirates can significantly upgrade at first base and right field, why not upgrade the most important position on the team. If Burnett rejects the qualifying offer, the Pirates can put their resources elsewhere.
But even if Burnett agrees to the $14.1 million deal, the Pirates can still continue to look for help in right field and at first base.
The Pirates payroll at the end of last season was about $74 million. With somewhere between $20 million and $25 million in new revenue available from new national TV deals and with the recently completed season a highly successful one off the field as well as on it, there’s no reason to believe the payroll cannot climb into the $90 million range -- if not $100 million.
Making the $14.1 million qualifying offer to Burnett should only be the start of the Pirates major offseason spending.
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