The A.J. Burnett situation hasn't changed much. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

The Pirates Want to Keep Burnett, and They Have the Money For It

The Pirates will do everything in their power to keep A.J. Burnett. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

The Pirates will do everything in their power to keep A.J. Burnett. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

With the Pittsburgh Pirates currently in a playoff race, the upcoming off-season moves take a back seat as far as priority goes. That said, the Pirates will have some interesting decisions to make this off-season. One decision is whether to keep starting pitcher A.J. Burnett.

That decision won’t be completely up to the Pirates. Over the weekend it was reported that Burnett is 50/50 on retiring after the season. If he does return, he would be open to returning to the Pirates. And if he is open to returning, the Pirates will want him back.

“We’re going to do everything within our power to keep A.J. here,” Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington said on Sunday. “Our goal is to have A.J. be a Pittsburgh Pirate next year absolutely.”

It’s hard to peg what Burnett’s value would be on the open market. There haven’t been many pitchers his age who have gone the free agent route. Ryan Dempster was a free agent last off-season and received a two-year, $26.5 M deal. Hiroki Kuroda keeps signing one year deals with the Yankees, with the latest being $15 M. Burnett has already received his big payday, and might only want a one year deal. That said, he has pitched well, and I could see him commanding $13-15 M on the open market. That would be the same price range as a qualifying offer for draft pick compensation. If the Pirates went that route, they’d either get Burnett for around $14 M, or would get a draft pick if he signed elsewhere.

Money will be the key factor, as it is with any small market team, even teams that are expanding payroll.

“We’ve got X number of dollars to spend,” Huntington said. “We’ve got some guys internally who are going to continue to make more money through arbitration. We’d love them all to return. But that’s not going to be financially possible. And that’s the reality of the market. Not just the reality of Pittsburgh but of all small markets, and some large markets. We’re going to have to make some tough choices … If you think getting here was tough, staying here is going to be that much more difficult.”

Here are the players who are eligible for arbitration after the 2013 season:

Pedro Alvarez – Can void his 2014 option and become arbitration eligible.

Neil Walker – Will get a raise over his $3.3 M this year.

Charlie Morton – It will be interesting to see what kind of salary he gets, since last year was a settlement following Tommy John surgery, and he’s healthy this off-season.

Garrett Jones – He could be a non-tender candidate with his performance this year, and the fact that he will likely see a raise over his $4.5 M since arbitration looks at the full body of work.

Travis Snider – A first year arbitration eligible player who might be a non-tender candidate.

Gaby Sanchez – Another non-tender candidate, although he has actually done his job this year in the first base platoon. Still, he’d get a raise over his $1.75 M salary, and there’s only so much you can pay a right-handed hitting first baseman, especially if you find an everyday guy.

Mark Melancon – He will be first year arbitration eligible.

Vin Mazzaro – The Pirates don’t usually tender arbitration to relievers like Mazzaro.

Felix Pie – He will probably be non-tendered.

There are also raises to consider.  The following players have existing contracts and will see a raise in 2014:

Jose Tabata – He will receive $3 M, which is a $2 M raise.

Andrew McCutchen – $7.25 M, up from $4.5 M

Russell Martin – $8.5 M, up from $6.5 M

Jason Grilli – $4 M, up from $2.25 M

Francisco Liriano – $6 M, up from $3.125 M

There’s also the Wandy Rodriguez player option to consider. Rodriguez will most likely exercise his 2014 option for $13 M, and the Pirates would be responsible for $7.5 M of that, with $5.5 M coming over from the Astros.

All of that said, the Pirates should have plenty of money to bring back Burnett, and still have money left for off-season moves. My “way too early” projection of the 2014 payroll has the Pirates at $60 M with all of the above moves (including non-tenders to Jones, Sanchez. Snider, Mazzaro, and Pie), not counting Burnett. The addition of Burnett would take the projected payroll to anywhere between $73-75 M.

The Pirates are currently projected to spend $74,460,458 in 2013. Teams will also receive a big boost next year with the National TV revenue coming in. That could add $20 M+ to each team’s budget. So the Pirates could spend up to the 2013 totals, and still theoretically have a lot of room left over for additions to the team beyond Burnett. This doesn’t include any boost in revenues they receive from the playoffs this year.

So the Pirates definitely can afford Burnett. They want him back. Burnett seems like he wants to return to Pittsburgh if he does return to baseball. As I wrote the other day, Burnett would provide a big boost to the rotation in 2014. He would join Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, and either a healthy Wandy Rodriguez or Jeff Locke. That’s largely the same rotation that has had so much success this year, and it would be hard to imagine where that rotation would be without Burnett’s numbers.

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • CalipariFan506

    This is the biggest no brainer of the offseason. Make Burnett a qualifying offer. You either get him at market rate for a year, he retires or he leaves and you get a compensation pick.

  • Kevin_Young

    I’m not going to ask who gets kicked for Taillon because by now we all know that’s a stupid thing to ask. So who all do we see getting hurt for him to come up and replace?

  • Jeff

    Can you see a 85-90 million dollar payroll next year?

    • Tim Williams

      I don’t think that would be a stretch. They’re spending about $75 M this year, and they’ll get a few boosts next year with the playoff revenues and the national TV money. $90 M seems easy with those two considered.

  • WardHolder


    While I totally agree with you, I’m also mindful of your comments about the Pirates’ offense. You’re right – a couple of hitters weren’t going to fix things long-term. And Morneau has cooled off considerably. So, as I see it, the Pirates have a significant issue over the winter in making their offense stronger. Two (still) obvious areas are right field and 1B. This site has suggested that the Bucs should go after Cuban defector Abreu for 1B, I’d love to see whether they could get Byrd on a one-two year deal to keep RF warm til Polanco arrives. What do the salary numbers look like with those additions? In other words, if the Pirates do address the offense, will they need the space created by making Cumpton/Irwin/McPherson/Johnson/Pimentel their 5th starter?

  • CalipariFan506

    I think revisiting the Trumbo trade is an interesting place to start as far as offense goes. Kingham would probably be the primary trade chip in such a deal.

    • Kevin_Young

      They won’t deal their best power hitter

  • PikeBishop65

    Two things:

    1. What exactly does “non-tender” mean? And how does it work?

    2. Club or player option? So Wandy basicaly tells the Pirates he wants to comeback at that salary? What happens if he doesn’t?

    These things always confuse me.

    • Tim Williams

      Non-tender means the team wouldn’t tender the player a contract, making him a free agent.

      Wandy has a player option, which means he can either come back at that price, or decline and become a free agent.

  • WoodChuck


    Is Byrd a free agent after this season? And if so, do you see him being one of your “off-season” moves? Would be nice to have Marte, Cutch, and Byrd for an entire season.

  • MaineBucs

    Although some of his recent performance may be a mirage, if Jose can replicate his numbers over the past month next season, a Marte – McCutchen – Tabata outfield with someone like Snider or Lambo as reserves may be sufficient until Polanco arrives. I like Byrd, but this is his best year in ages and he is 36. I would be really hesitant to give a 36 year outfielder a 2 year deal.

    With respect to Burnett; yes, send him a contract.

  • emjayinTN

    This is AJ’s team, and I know he would be full of it if the Pirates make the playoffs and the Yankees, who kicked him to the curb, sit at home after picking up about half his salary the past two years. Morton will be at least $4 mil in Arb – a lot less than what he is worth, but he will not have a complete season of work.

    *Try to sign Pedro long term – he will not accept, but he will appreciate the Pirates trying
    *A long term deal for Walker, and try to sign Justin Morneau for 3 years in the vicinity of $27 mil – that would set the lineup
    *Barmes is worth a shot as a backup in the IF for about $3 mil

    We cannot afford to offer Byrd because Polanco is already in AAA – figure June 2014. Buck is a player we had to take in order to get Byrd. I cannot see the Pirates keeping Garrett Jones for the $6 or $7 mil he may get in Arb. The Pirates have too much talent not to make a trade over the Winter. BTW Pittsburgh, congrats on 2.25 million fans through the turnstiles at PNC, an increase of almost 160,000 over 2012 which amounts to an extra $6 mil+ to use on players/pitchers. And, the Pirates are quickly becoming fan faves, and I wonder what that may do for their share of the TV Revenues.

  • ChirpCity

    I remember him being quoted earlier in the year as saying that if he did continue playing beyond this season, he would only want to play for the pirates. But of course that could change.

  • Matthew McCarty

    Man I think some of you are not thinking clearly with all this playoff hysteria!

    1. In no way, shape or form should Mourneau be signed long-term. He will not command 9m/yr either unless he has a magical October. In thatcase I am sure Cashman will overpay.

    2. Same goes for Byrd. Tabata had a promising rookie season then was hampered with injuries until recently. He could get injured again, but thats why you depth for internal stop gaps or trades to acquire. With the way guys are progressing, there will continually be a 40 Man crunch anyway.

    3. Not doing the above could be the difference in the Abreu bidding or extending Pedro. Pedro is important due to no one in the pipeline yet to takeover.

    It wouldnt be the end of the world If AJ took off (I would completely understand If he wanted to play his final year or two in Baltimore). Liriano, Wandy, Chuck, Cole and one of Locke, Tallion or Jeanmar is still pretty damn good. I think If we got Abreu and Extended Pedro while losing all of the above it is still fantastic shape.

    One guys value I am unsure of would be Karstens. If we could sign him to a much cheaper deal, I think it would be worth it, and would give the Bucs 6 guys plus a top prospect to go with in 2014.

    Also, please no retreads unless we trade to get Bautista back! LGB

  • steelpro

    I hope AJ comes back. I think he will return on a 1 year deal. But what I’d like to see even more is Morton get 2 or 3 year deal. This is only his first year back from Tommy John Surgery. Generally pitchers don’t round into form until the second year back. He still might not have reached his ceiling. I think he is going to be good pitcher over the next 3 or 4 years. With all the work they’ve done to develop him I’d like to see the Pirates benefit from his prime years.

  • CalipariFan506

    Yes, Morton should be the first and possibly only extension candidate this winter.

    I do not think Wandy can be counted on to even throw another pitch let alone be effective over another season so I’d like to sign a free agent retread this winter. Roberto Hernandez is my guy.

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