While rumors of all manner are ricocheting around MLB as free agency heats up the hot stove -- ‘Josh Johnson would prefer to pitch for Giants or Padres’; ‘Rangers interested in Shin-Soo Choo’; ‘Roy Oswalt plans to pitch in 2014’ -- there’s barely been a word about one of the best pitchers available -- A.J. Burnett.
With his New York background and with his 2013 accomplishments, which included leading all National League starters -- including the likes of Jose Fernandez, Clayton Kershaw and Stephen Strasburg -- in K/9, it would seem there’d be almost daily reports on what Burnett will do.
• Is he really going to retire and walk away from tens of millions?
• Will he sign with the Pirates, which would likely require some kind of hometown discount?
• Will he eventually acknowledge his availability to the highest bidder?
All that’s known is the Pirates did not make a $14.1 million qualifying offer to Burnett, which would have guaranteed them a high draft choice if he signed elsewhere. From reading between the lines, the Pirates don’t seem to be all that hot to sign Burnett at what the market is likely to bear. Burnett earned $16.5 million last season with $8.5 million of that being covered by the New York Yankees. Based on how well he pitched, he’d not likely be inclined to take significantly less.
The market for him became partially established yesterday with word that Tim Hudson, also a right-hander, signed a two-year, $23 million contract with the San Francisco Giants.
Hudson is 18 months older than Burnett. He has not been as effective as Burnett in recent seasons. He has not been as durable as Burnett in recent seasons.
In each of the past two years, Burnett has had a lower ERA, a lower BAA and higher K/9 and K/B ratios than Hudson. Hudson has had slightly lower WHIPS. Of particular significance considering the money being thrown around, Burnett made 94 starts in the past three seasons. Hudson made 82.
Finally, Burnett’s pitching the past two seasons has been just about the best of his career. Hudson’s has not been close to the best of his career.
Considering those factors, Burnett would be in line for at least a one-year $15 million deal or a two-year deal between $26 and $30 million.
Tom Singer of MLB.com suggested Burnett might attempt to do what Roger Clemens did so well late in his career -- sit out about half the season and then auction himself off to the highest bidder, some of whom could be quite desperate at that point. That would almost certainly take the Pirates out of the Burnett scenario.
Since free agency is underway and Burnett has not announced his intentions, it can only be assumed the Pirates plan to move forward without him. Even though general manager Neal Huntington said the Pirates would be patient in their approach to free agency, they still need to be able to formulate a plan and it can only be assumed they are moving ahead without Burnett.
With Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, Wandy Rodriguez, Jeff Locke and Jeanmar Gomez available to start the season and top prospect Jameson Taillon on a fast track to MLB, Burnett might not qualify as a luxury but nor is he an absolute necessity.
Most of the major deals done thus far have been teams keeping their own. The biggest names to change teams have been Hudson and Marlon Byrd going to the Mets for two years and $16 million.
The Pirates are not playing from behind -- yet. But needing help in several areas means that with money to spend playing the patient game might not be the wisest of strategies.