Last night I wrote about how Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett are the 1-A and 1-B when it comes to Pirates aces. I also said that I feel Liriano has passed Burnett as the Pirates ace. Typically, Burnett would follow that up with a complete game gem, allowing one run and striking out nine. After the game, Clint Hurdle was asked about the possibility that the Pirates have two aces.
“Frankie set the bar in a good place for us the other night and A.J. just pushed it up,” Hurdle said.
I still believe that Liriano is the top pitcher right now, especially with the “left-hander in PNC Park” factor, but it’s splitting hairs. Either way, the Pirates have two really good pitchers. But only one of those pitchers is under team control beyond the 2013 season. Liriano has a vesting option for the 2014 season, while Burnett is a free agent after the year.
Currently the Pirates have everyone in the current rotation under team control in 2014, except Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez. Rodriguez has a player option, which he seems likely to exercise due to his current injury. That would give the Pirates a rotation of Francisco Liriano, Rodriguez, Gerrit Cole, Jeff Locke, and Charlie Morton. As we’ve seen this year, you need more than five starters. While Stolmy Pimentel, Brandon Cumpton, Jameson Taillon, Phil Irwin, Kyle McPherson, Nick Kingham and others could serve as depth throughout the year next year, you’d like to improve from the top down. Bringing back Burnett would be a huge boost for the staff.
Prior to the season, Burnett talked about how he would either retire after the season, or sign with the Pirates. Judging by his comments after the game, he hasn’t lost his love for Pittsburgh.
“It’s awesome,” Burnett said of tonight’s crowd. “It’s been a great season all-around packing this place in. They know what’s at stake. They know what kind of team we have. They know it’s different. We expect to win, and when we don’t, we’ve got another game tomorrow. They’re in every pitch, every count. ‘A.J.’ chants give you goosebumps on the mound in the 9th inning. It was fun.”
Where else is Burnett going to find that? Liriano might be slightly better right now, but Burnett is the leader of the staff, and the fan favorite. Where else is he going to find that? Even if Gerrit Cole realizes his upside next year as an ace, Burnett is still going to be the leader and the favorite. Even if Jeff Locke never regresses, or if Jameson Taillon comes up and becomes an ace, or if Wandy Rodriguez puts up great numbers, Burnett will be the leader and the favorite.
The Pirates could certainly afford Burnett. They’ve offered 3/$30 M deals in the past to Edwin Jackson and Jorge De La Rosa, only to have those deals turned down. That might have worked out for the best, since they probably would have never traded for Burnett if one of those deals was accepted. So is that what it would take for Burnett? To get an idea, here are the free agent pitchers from the last two years who were 36 or older.
Ryan Dempster – 2/$26.5 M
Dempster received two years and $26.5 M this past off-season for his age 36/37 seasons.
Hiroki Kuroda – 1/$15 M
Kuroda received $15 M for one year from the Yankees for his age 38 season.
Andy Pettitte – 1/$12 M
Pettitte also received a one year deal from the Yankees for $12 M, paying him for his age 41 season.
Hiroki Kuroda – 1/$10 M
Once again, Kuroda got a one year deal from the Yankees. Or maybe the 2012 deal was “once again” since this one came first. This one was at age 37.
The one year deals were higher, but there’s also less risk with a one year deal. Give someone one year, and if they don’t work out, the contract is off the books at the end of the season. Give someone multiple years and if they suffer a big injury, you’re sinking a ton of money in two different seasons. The only two year deal was Ryan Dempster, who got a little over $13 M per year.
One thing about Burnett is that he’s already received his big payday. He has made over $120 M in his career. He also doesn’t seem like he’s looking for the biggest contract, as much as he’s looking for that best situation. So if I had to guess, I’d say a 2/$20 M deal for Burnett would sound about right. That would give him a fair salary, which might be a bit of a hometown discount for the Pirates, while also keeping him around in Pittsburgh to lead what will be a young staff for the next two years.
The Pirates will have a lot of talent in their rotation next year regardless of whether Burnett returns. But it would be nice if they were also able to bring back the leader of the pitching staff.
Links and Notes
**Check out the latest episode of the Pirates Prospects Podcast: P3 Episode 15: Recapping the Slow Deadline; The Pirates Are Legit Playoff Contenders.