Pirates Trade Target: A.J. Burnett

A few weeks back, John Perrotto reported that former Buc A.J. Burnett was possibly on the Pirates’ radar once again. While I figured it was just speculation at the time, now there’s this from Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

“A Pittsburgh scout — not on his normal coverage — watched Burnett’s start Friday at Turner Field. The Pirates could use a boost to a rotation of Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton, Edinson Volquez, Jeff Locke and Vance Worley.”

While it’s funny to me that they even scouted him (I think they know what he has to offer by now), it does show that there may be some serious interest there (especially if said scout truly did go out of his way).

Of course, everyone remembers the apparent fallout between Burnett and the Pirates, though Perrotto’s piece offered this:

“But Burnett has said since he has good memories about his time with the Pirates. A team source said Thursday that the Pirates believe any remaining ill feelings can be smoothed over.”

Pirate fans seem torn on the thought of bringing Burnett back (as far as what I’m reading on social media). A.J. was greeted warmly when he pitched at PNC two weeks ago, for which he seemed grateful.

aj burnett returns to pnc park

Rather than show his career numbers, here is what he’s done in 21 starts with Philadelphia this year:

Rk Date Opp Rslt IP H R ER BB SO ERA Pit
1 Apr 1 TEX L,2-3 6.0 7 1 1 2 3 1.50 97
2 Apr 6 CHC L,3-8 5.2 5 8 4 6 3 3.86 109
3 Apr 11 MIA W,6-3 4.1 5 2 2 6 4 3.94 106
4 Apr 17 ATL W,1-0 7.0 3 0 0 2 5 2.74 101
5 Apr 22 LAD W,3-2 6.2 6 2 2 1 5 2.73 105
6 Apr 27 ARI W,2-0 8.0 5 0 0 0 8 2.15 102
May Opp Rslt IP H R ER BB SO ERA Pit
7 May 3 WSN W,7-2 6.0 3 1 1 2 7 2.06 93
8 May 8 TOR L,6-12 6.0 9 7 6 2 4 2.90 103
9 May 14 LAA L,0-3 5.0 7 3 3 5 6 3.13 113
10 May 20 MIA W,6-5 5.0 3 3 3 4 5 3.32 96
11 May 25 LAD L,0-6 7.0 11 6 4 1 3 3.51 108
12 May 30 NYM W,6-5 7.0 5 5 5 6 11 3.79 116
June Opp Rslt IP H R ER BB SO ERA Pit
13 Jun 4 WSN L,4-8 6.0 10 8 8 4 3 4.41 104
14 Jun 10 SDP W,5-2 7.1 3 2 2 2 3 4.24 89
15 Jun 15 CHC L,0-3 8.0 8 3 3 0 4 4.17 104
16 Jun 20 STL W,5-1 9.0 7 1 1 1 3 3.89 111
17 Jun 25 MIA L,2-3 7.0 5 3 3 3 8 3.89 107
July Opp Rslt IP H R ER BB SO ERA Pit
18 Jul 1 MIA L,4-5 6.0 6 4 3 4 10 3.92 116
19 Jul 6 PIT L,2-6 7.0 5 3 3 2 7 3.92 100
20 Jul 11 WSN W,6-2 7.2 5 2 2 4 6 3.83 108
21 Jul 18 ATL L,4-6 5.0 10 6 6 1 5 4.08 77
136.2 128 70 62 58 113 4.08
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/20/2014.

He’s had a couple of bumps along the way (including Friday’s outing), but pitched some of his best baseball of the year over the past month — 2.94 ERA in seven starts from June 10th to July 11th. Overall, it hasn’t been a great year on the eastern side of the state for A.J.

Burnett was impressive (especially for his age) with the Bucs, but he’s now a year older, his strikeout numbers are down, he leads the league in walks, and he’s dealt with an inguinal hernia since April. That injury is a red flag, although he’s been pitching through it to this point.

I liked Burnett when he was here and think it’d be sweet to see him back in black and gold. On the other hand, I think the Pirates should shoot higher than this. The next 10 days will be interesting.

A.J. claims that he would want to stay in Philadelphia, but… the Phillies aren’t close to contending and are looking to deal any number of their overpaid veterans. It’s not surprising that Burnett is on the block, but it may be tough for the Phils to deal him — he has a limited no trade clause, presumably wants to stay close to home (like he did in free agency), and a contender would have to want him. The two logical fits are Baltimore (who had “very preliminary” talks with Philly about Burnett) and Pittsburgh.

Philadelphia is paying him a lot of cash this year (more than the Pirates wanted to pay him, obviously). If the two teams were to match up on a deal, I think the Pirates would like to see some money eaten by Philly if they tossed in a prospect (or maybe the Pirates could unload Jose Tabata and his contract on the Phillies?) Either way, Philadelphia doesn’t have much leverage because of his NTC, plus they just want to unload, so the price shouldn’t be crazy.

There’s also a 2015 option on his contract, which is interesting — it’s a $15 million mutual option, but if the team turns it down, Burnett can trigger a $7.5 million player option. That figure could increase based on how many starts he makes this season:

24 starts = $8.5 million
27 starts = $10 million
30 starts = $11.75 million
32 starts = $12.75 million

Considering he’s already leading the league at 21 starts, that possible player option will likely wind up being much more than just $7.5 million, barring an injury. But still plenty affordable for whatever team he ends up with.

It would be kinda weird to see the Bucs get him back after the two parted ways last winter. But the club’s apparently over it, enough so that they’re scouting him and possibly interested in acquiring him once again. I think Burnett would be up for coming back as well. It’d be cool to see A.J. get a chance to pitch for a contender — Pirates or otherwise — one more time before he calls it quits.

Go Bucs

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  1. Berdj J. Rassam on July 21, 2014

    Burnett has had an okay season so far in ’14 for the Phillies, but he wouldn’t be a bad #4 or #5 starter for the Pirates.

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