The intrigue surrounding the future of free-agent pitcher A.J. Burnett, who will be 37 next season, and whether it includes the Pirates continues to grow.
Burnett has said on more than one occasion that if he plays next season it will be with the Pirates. However, he also has left open the possibility he could change his mind. Burnett has been the Pirates best starter the past two seasons, going 26-21 with a 3.41 ERA and an 8.90 K/9. He led the NL in K/9 last season. He is pitching as well as at any time in his career.
The latest on Burnett, from the 2014 free-agent rankings by HardballTalk.con, might be enough to make him rethink his options and fully explore free agency.
He was ranked as the 11th best free agent and Matthew Pouliot wrote this: ''If he does come back, it’ll probably be on a one-year deal with the Pirates. But if he were to play the market, he certainly shouldn’t have to settle for anything less than the $35 million for two years that Tim Linceum just got from the Giants.’’
That’s a lot of money and a lot of ego gratification to leave on the table.
When Burnett signed his five-year, $82.5 million contract with the Yankees in December, 2008, he probably thought it was his last one and certainly his most lucrative. But Lincecum averaged $17.5 million with his deal, which is more than the $16.5 million average on Burnett’s recently concluded contract.
Tom Singer of MLB.com had these thoughts on Burnett. ''If he and his family decide to go on, little negotiation will be required to make it happen. In all likelihood, the Pirates will tender him the qualifying offer of $14.1 million, he will accept to get locked in, and the sides then will continue to try to hammer out a replacement deal in the two-year, $25 million range.’’
Singer’s estimation for a two-year deal for $25 million seems more reasonable than Pouliot’s of $35 million. But once the bidding begins, who knows? There has been an historical underestimation of what salaries will be. No one expected the Giants would pay Lincecum -- who is younger than Burnett but whose previous two seasons were far less accomplished -- $35 million to keep him out of free agency.
Whether the negotiations go as smoothly as Singer suggests remains to be determined.
Teams must decided by 5 p.m. Monday whether to make the $14.1 million qualifying offer, which guarantees a high draft choice if the player rejects the offer and signs elsewhere. Players have until Nov. 11 to make a decision.
Outfielder Marlon Byrd was ranked the 37th best free agent. HardballTalk.com said this about Byrd:
''After a strong showing down the stretch with the Pirates and then some postseason heroics (.364 in six games, big homer in the wild card victory), he’s in much better position to get a two-year contract. Right-handed power just isn’t easy to come by. In fact, among right-handed hitters, Byrd led all free agents-to-be with his 24 homers.’’
The Pirates probably would not want not want to offer Byrd two years, although it is a possibility.
The Pirates other two free-agents, first baseman Justin Morneau and shortstop Clint Barmes, are ranked 54th and 111th, respectively.
In other news, Wandy Rodriguez, as expected, exercised his option for 2014, which means he will earn $13.5 million, $7.5 million of which will be paid by the Pirates. Rodriguez did not pitch after June 5 because of injury. There is a concern as to how much or how effectively he will be able to pitch next season.