At one point, A.J. Burnett declared he was either going to retire after the 2013 season or pitch again for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2014.
His uncertain status wasn't that big of a deal in recent weeks, since the free-agent pitching market was in limbo while all of baseball waited for a decision from Masahiro Tanaka. With Tanaka committed to the Yankees, and other pitching dominoes starting to fall, we're now learning more about Burnett's plan.
A unnamed source told Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that Burnett plans to pitch in 2014. However — and here's where things get interesting — it's sounding like Burnett has backed away from his two-option plan. There's a third option. Go someplace else.
Maybe, at age 37, coming off a season in which he earned $16.5 million, Burnett wants to dip his toes back in the free-agent pool one last time. From Sawchik's story:
The 37-year-old Burnett led the National League in groundball rate and strikeout rate last season showing no signs of diminishing skills. The Phillies and Orioles also have reportedly expressed interest in Burnett.
“He's made the decision he is going to play,” said a source, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “I suspect he is going to open himself up to the market" ...
The Pirates have expressed interest in resigning Burnett but not at a market price for a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. The Pirates declined to extend a one-year qualifying offer of $14.1 million to Burnett in November, which would have given the club draft pick compensation had Burnett signed elsewhere.
That draft-pick compensation is a big deal, and definitely limits the market for Burnett. But since Burnett had a 3.30 ERA last season and 202 strikeouts, the tenth most in baseball, there are still buyers to be found. He's useful. The aforementioned Orioles and Phillies are on the need-pitching list, so are the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays.
The Pirates, of course, are high on the list too. It's not going to be easy for Pittsburgh to build on the momentum from its special 2013 season, but it would be harder without Burnett.
- - - - - - -