Karen Price of the Trib reports that A.J. Burnett is 50-50 on playing baseball beyond 2013 or retiring. This is something we’ve heard all year, even during Spring Training before the season started. Burnett has said he would be open to a return to the Pirates. The only other team that has been heavily speculated has been the Baltimore Orioles, since that is Burnett’s home town. It’s hard to imagine that Burnett would have the same role in another city that he has in Pittsburgh, where he is currently the leader of the pitching staff, and one of the leaders of the team.
Bringing Burnett back would be a big boost to the 2014 rotation. Currently that rotation will feature Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton, and Gerrit Cole. Wandy Rodriguez is expected to be back under a player option, although his health will be in question. There’s also Jeff Locke, who has good overall stats, but has struggled in the second half. If Burnett returns, that would create a situation where the fifth starter is either a healthy Wandy Rodriguez or Jeff Locke.
If Rodriguez returns and is healthy, then Locke would make a great depth option. As we’ve seen this year, depth in the rotation is extremely important. Beyond Locke, the Pirates would have Kyle McPherson and Phil Irwin returning from injuries, plus Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham as possibilities for mid-season call-ups. Brandon Cumpton and Stolmy Pimentel would be options for early season depth starts in this scenario, although Pimentel would have to work out of the major league bullpen since he is out of options.
Burnett would definitely help the rotation next year, much like he’s helped the rotation in the last two years. More importantly, the pitching staff would retain their leader, which is also a bonus.