Five Thoughts on Burnett-to-Philadelphia

AJ Burnett Phillies

It’s official: A.J. Burnett will not be a Pittsburgh Pirate in 2014. Instead, he’s headed over to the other side of Pennsylvania to join the Phillies.

Here are a few quick thoughts on his decision…

1. Did the Pirates even want him back? 

I honestly don’t think so. The longer this went on, the more it seemed like the Bucs weren’t interested. Burnett and management didn’t see eye-to-eye at times, but this is a guy who makes your team better.

The current rotation is far from a sure thing. It looks good on the surface, but there are legitimate concerns. Francisco Liriano has never produced back-to-back strong seasons and has nly made more than 30 starts once. Gerrit Cole is just entering his first full season. Charlie Morton missed huge chunks of the last two seasons, lasting more than 116 innings just one season in his big league career. Wandy Rodriguez made 12 starts last year. Edinson Volquez was arguably the worst pitcher in the NL in 2013.

Without a doubt, A.J. Burnett would have made the Pirates a better team in 2014. Yes, he’s 37, but he’s coming off the best year of his career in which he led the National League in both K/9 and GB%.

At this point, this could be a team that falls a few games short of a playoff spot. Clay Davenport’s early projections have the Pirates missing a Wild Card spot by two games. Burnett could be a difference maker, especially in a rotation with question marks. It shouldn’t be surprising to me considering their penny-pinching ways, but I find it bizarre that they wouldn’t pony up some cash for him.

2. The qualifying offer decision looks even worse now.

Had the Bucs given him the $14.1 million qualifying offer, this situation would probably be looked at a lot differently right now.

If he accepts the Q.O. – good. You’re getting a solid pitcher at market rate. Neal Huntington has said the team felt uncomfortable paying 15%-20% of the payroll on a single player. The Pirates have the money to do this, but it just doesn’t fit into their current budget.

If he declines it but stays in touch with the Pirates, they would’ve had more bargaining power. If he declines and signs elsewhere, then the Pirates get a compensation pick in this summer’s draft. The pick isn’t a huge difference maker, but still at least some sort of consolation for losing a free agent.

If he retires, then whatever, no team wins.

Any of those scenarios would’ve been better than this. Instead, the Pirates lose out on re-signing one of their best pitchers at a fair price and have nothing to show for it.

3. Can the Pirates please get a first baseman now?

Losing Burnett may have been slightly more bearable if the Pirates had actually done something notable this winter. Their “key acquisitions” include Volquez and light-hitting catcher Chris Stewart. Unless Ray Searage fixes Volquez, then that $5 million contract will continue to look laughable.

There weren’t a lot of areas to upgrade, but it would’ve been nice to 1) replace A.J. with a pitcher who has been successful more recently than 2008 and 2) find a solid first baseman.

Fortunately, there’s still time to salvage the offseason a bit by acquiring a someone to play first. I don’t know who it’s going to be at this point, but please make it happen.

4. Philly isn’t all that great. 

General manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. – or “Ruin Tomorrow, Jr.” as some Phillies fans call him – has assembled the most expensive team in his franchise’s history, and they really aren’t a contender. And Burnett has made the Phils older than they already are.

As Jeff Sullivan wrote in his article “A.J. Burnett Finds New, Mediocre Home” this afternoon, “the Phillies aren’t that close to the playoffs. At least, not according to the math we’ve got. ZiPS doesn’t think very much of themPECOTA doesn’t think very much of themSteamer doesn’t think very much of them.”

A.J.’s numbers could take a hit as well. Even though he wasn’t fond of the Bucs’ defensive shifts, they helped save 68 runs last season, third most in the majors. Philadelphia, on the other hand, ranked dead last in Defensive Runs Saved at -102.

Burnett was also helped by the dimensions of PNC Park, while Citizens Bank Park is nowhere near as friendly. CBP had the highest home run factor of any park last year, while PNC ranked 29th.

Considering he wanted to stay close to his Maryland home, he really didn’t have many options. Can’t blame him for taking the $16 million in Philly, although it’s really not a great fit.

5. Thankfully, it’s over. 

I’m just glad this whole situation is over. There’s a lot we’ll never know about what went on. Time for the Pirates to adjust to life without A.J. and find their own identity.

Best of luck to Burnett this season. He and Marlon Byrd will return to Pittsburgh on July 4th.

Thank You AJ Burnett

Go Bucs

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