A.J. Burnett Prefers the Pirates, But His Salary is Not Preferred

Ken Rosenthal has some interesting updates on A.J. Burnett:

There’s a lot to break down here, so some quick thoughts.

1. It’s interesting that Burnett is now saying he prefers the Pirates, since his whole off-season decision was about preferring to play for the Phillies. Of course, the Phillies aspect could have been due to the fact that he was guaranteed $23 M in the deal, due to his player option (which I’ll get to in a second).

2. I don’t put much stock in what the players are looking for. Every year we hear a bit about what the players want, and it’s always the same trend. Players tend to focus on names, and not on numbers. Right now Burnett is a big name, but the numbers aren’t really an upgrade over what the Pirates currently have in their rotation.

3. Burnett’s option will go up to $8.5 M after three more starts. With the pace he’s on, he’ll probably reach 32 starts this year, making his 2015 player option a $12.75 M salary. He’s currently pitching through a sports hernia, and the last I read out of Philadelphia is that he was going to have surgery in the off-season. He could definitely return for a full season next year if that was the case. But you’d have to worry about how he returns. Cole Hamels had the same surgery after his age 27 season, and was fine the next year. But Burnett is in his age 37 season.

4. As for Burnett’s salary, Cot’s lists him with several performance bonuses coming up. He’ll get $500,000 for 24 and 27 games started, plus $750,000 for 30 games started. He should reach those, which means he’ll be owed an extra $1.75 M on top of the remainder of his $7.5 M salary this year. There’s also about $6.5 M remaining in signing bonuses. Overall, if Burnett was dealt on July 31st, he would be owed about $2.5 M this year, plus the extra $1.75 M in bonuses, plus $6.5 M in signing bonuses, plus $12.75 M next year, with the chance to earn the same $1.75 M in bonuses. That’s upwards of $25.25 M over a 14 month span for a player who wouldn’t really be an upgrade to the current Pirates rotation.

As I’ve said before on this topic, Burnett did great things while he was with the Pirates. He’s not doing that anymore. He’s also set to make a ridiculous amount of money over a 14 month span, which is an amount that wouldn’t have been worth it even at his old numbers.

The Phillies could eat some of this salary, but the flip side to eating salary is that you have to pay prospects to get a discount. Burnett isn’t going to bring an upgrade that’s worth giving up anything of value.

Tim Williams

Author: 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 AccuScore.com, 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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  • Lee Young

    I’m with you Tim….’bleep’ AJ. He had his chance and spurned us. I was one of the ones NOT cheering when they did that video tribute. Would’ve rather had seen a video tribute to the Fort!! ST’bleep’D AJ and stay in Philly, where you ain’t wanted either.

    not that I am bitter or anything….. :)

    • NorCalBuc

      I hope you feel better now. This is what we’re here for. Baseball therapy.

  • deacs

    Not the first player to ever want his cake and eat it too but seriously? I gotta admit, I’m tempted but not with the sports hernia.

  • wvbuccos

    I think his numbers may improve with PNC Park and the Pirates defense, though. Getting back with Ray Searage can’t hurt, either. I wonder how much he changed his approach this year after the successful changes Searage and Benedict helped him implement. Perhaps there won’t be much change in numbers after a change in uniform, but maybe Burnett thinks there will be and that is why he wants to return to the Pirates. Also, I know Tim has ranked him among the current rotation in terms of xFIP so that stat should not change due to park factors and defense. However, a change in approach or mechanics (if indeed AJ went back to his prior approach this offseason) may improve his xFIP.

    • Y2JGQ2

      Our defense is terrible, i’m not sure how you think its an upgrade. Last year maybe, this year…nope.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/ Tim Williams

      Burnett’s problems are a drop in strikeouts and a rise in walks. His struggles aren’t park factor or team related.

      • S Brooks

        Last 8 starts the walks have been down to 2.7BB/9 and FIP is 3.44 (in his last 6 starts it’s even better – 3.12 FIP).

        He has two more starts, Wednesday and next Monday. Let’s say he continues that trend, limiting walks and keeping his K’s constant in the high 7′s.

        Now let’s say the Phillies eat the signing bonus, so now Burnett is guaranteed all of $17M for the next year and a half. NH was willing to go to $12M for one year in February.

        You don’t think twice about it?

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com/ Tim Williams

          If Burnett could be had for $17 M and no prospects, then maybe I think twice about it. But this seems unlikely.

          • S Brooks

            Anything’s possible when you’re negotiating with Ruben Amaro.

        • wkkortas

          It’s sliced data; the whole picture says back-end rotation guy, and the Pirates have plenty of those.

          • S Brooks

            Maybe. But I think there something to the fact that he has altered his pitch mix (in response to the hernia? We do know his FB has diminished velo), and is finding success with it. The stats tell you what, but not necessarily why.

          • deacs

            They do. It’s very tempting because when you picture AJ you picture the guy with the attitude that brought toughness and 7-8 inning ability. But he’s not quite that guy right now and he’ll be older next year. At some point you have to give the Cumptons and Kinghams a chance. And if they put up similar numbers to AJ they you take that extra money and spend it on Martin for example. Or anywhere you want.

            • wkkortas

              Exactly–if re-signing Martin is a priority, money you’re paying to AJ is less to sign him, even if the Phils pick up the lion’s share of the contract. It’s a lousy risk-reward proposition.

              • S Brooks

                I don’t think one impacts the other. The Pirates left $8.5M of their $19M free agent budget on the table, and they usually spend $5-10M in-season to improve the roster. Taking the low end of that, there’s $13.5M potentially available for an upgrade.

                Next year, $32M in contracts come off the books in Martin, Frankie, Wandy, Volquez, Barmes and Mazzaro. Non-tendering Travis Snider saves another $1.2M.

                Between contract terms (Morton, Cutch, Marte, Tabata) and arbitration estimates (Alvarez, Walker, Melancon, Davis, Harrison, Watson, Gaby, Worley, Gomez, Hughes, Frieri, Stewart), the current team will cost roughly $23M more than it does now.

                That’s net $10M below the 2014 payroll, and potentially more, depending on what happens with Gaby, Frieri and Tabata.

                But that’s just to get the team back to the $72M level it’s at now. But we can deduce that Nutting was prepared to spend ~ $80M for his 2014 Opening Day payroll, you have to figure the ’15 budget wouldn’t be any less, with new national TV money trickling in and increased ticket sales. So let’s tack on another $8M, which is $18M available to improve the team in ’15, give or take.

                So you add the $13.5M from 2014 plus $18M from 2015, that’s $31.5M. That’s just about what it would take to pay out Burnett less his signing bonus and give Martin a QO.

    • wvbuccos

      Looking at fangraphs, he’s throwing his sinker and change more, and his fastball a lot less. Not sure what to make of that. My point is just that due to all those factors (and Russell Martin) maybe he will improve a bit. But my thoughts on him and all trade targets are that I don’t want anyone owed enough money beyond this year that will affect re-signing Russ, or anyone that will cost Taillon, Glasnow, Kingham, Bell, Meadows, McGuire, possibly Hanson.

      • michaelbro8

        I cracked up when he threw Locke a change-up. Locke gave him the funniest look

  • deacs

    You really gotta give his agent credit. If he stays healthy he really cashes in. Of course as a 36 year old, living in Philly myself, watching other 36 year olds play baseball……….look, 36 is old so no guarantees. There’s a reason Phillies players break down. The Phillies would need to eat LOTS of money in this deal and take marginal prospects. Won’t happen. But it’s nice to know AJ misses the city of Pittsburgh and/or playing meaningful baseball.

  • Mr. Goodkat

    The Pirates wouldn’t pay him $14M for 12 months — no way they’ll pay him $25.25 for 14 months even if he’s FREE.
    Philly would probably have to give/get what they Yankees did when we originally acquired him.

    • http://www.stealingfirstbase.com Stealing First Base

      Presumably the Phillies would be looking to get his salary off the books if they moved him. Wherever he goes, Philly will likely pay quite a bit of salary to get the deal done.

      I’m of the opinion that he would probably improve if he came back to Pittsburgh, but I’m also not sure it’s actually worth it to find out.

  • Y2JGQ2

    Ridiculous- He cost us a draft pick and now wants to come back…..what a tool

    • S Brooks

      He didn’t cost anyone a draft pick. That was a gamble by NH that didn’t pay off, and he admitted as much.

      • Y2JGQ2

        No- he costs us a draft pick by being dishonest upfront. NH took a gamble based on a player’s word.

  • Y2JGQ2

    You are overlooking the fact that the phillies can pay part of his salary like the yankees did earlier, and like the astros did with wandy.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/ Tim Williams

      Are you saying I’m overlooking that? Because it was in the article.

      • leadoff

        You did say some salary in he article, but you also said it would require more prospects, something that is normal, but in this case I don’t think it applies, IMO, the Phillies want to dump him, a dump usually means you take on salary and get what you can in prospects, but the Phillies are not going to get any top prospects from the Pirates even if they take on salary, something they will surely have to do.

        • Y2JGQ2

          Exactly

    • Lukas Sutton

      Problem is, both of the examples you used were guys that were at worst additions to the back end of the rotation and improvements there. AJ is, by a ton of stats and metrics, our 6th best option. He would cost a player, cost some money and take away a rotation spot to a better player.

  • deacs

    A little off topic but Keith Law just ranked the Pirates Farm System 5th and liked the 2014 draft. But back to AJ, there’s just too much money involved. I imagine he’ll go to a team that wouldn’t require as much to be salary to be picked up. Pirates really should’ve just made the QO but that’s another story. If you’re gonna offer 12, why not offer 14? Either way they haven’t really been burned by his departure. Maybe just lost a drat pick by being naive.

    • leadoff

      “Pirates really should’ve just made the QO but that’s another story”.
      Because you don’t offer 14mil to a guy that is in decline, something the Pirates knew and the public did not.

      Imagine them paying 14 mil this year for Burnett when he probably is the 6th best pitcher they would have!

      • deacs

        So why offer $12 million then? I realize $2 million is real money and it’s not my money but it’s not that much to protect yourself in my opinion. You offer 14 you’re getting a pick if he walks. You offer 12 and he walks (which he did) you get nothing.

  • leadoff

    I agree that bringing Burnett would be a bad decision, a feel good story no less, but still bad.

  • cmat0829

    The most obvious question in all of this is “WHAT THE HELL WAS RUBEN AMARO THINKING”????? this contract, where the Phils were likely competing only with the barely interested Pirates and Orioles is INEXCUSABLE. NO wonder that phranchise is an absolute MESS. RIDICULOUS contract.

    That said, the ONLY ways if I’m NH that I’d bite on AJ are the following:

    1) AJ essentially decides this year is really it for him and he declines the player option for 2015 and retires ( question: is that an option, could he do so and therefore not cost the Pirates any of that money?)

    2) Phillies pay $8M of what is owed Burnett, reducing the total price to $17M for 1.5 years.

    3) And in 2 above, only if marginal prospects go to Philly. We don’t need to reward Amaro for his self-imposed nightmare of a contract.

    4) And in 2 above, ONLY if this doesn’t impact the money available to re-sign Martin.

    With Liriano, Wandy and Volquez coming off the books next year, it would appear that if AJ can/does pitch in 2015, the money is there, without impacting the ability to re-sign Martin. But the only way this deal even approaches making sense is if the Bucs feel AJ can indeed pitch in 2015 and at a reasonable level… the rotation would be Cole/Locke/Morton/AJ/Worley with Cumpton/Kingham as depth and Taillon on the way.

    I’m 95% against this but there would be a slight path for this to make sense, IMHO.

    • deacs

      Like I said, I live in Philly and fans are near rioting. They want the Phillies to have a fire sale but they’re scared to death of who’s in charge of the trades. I have a lot of very intelligent fans (who would love this site because they could do laps around me in sabre-talk) that are very jealous of the Pirates. The Phillies can afford AJ at $16 million for one year. This is what I thought until I heard about all the 2015 figures that kick in based on starts. Crazy. The Lee contract, the Howard contract, Rollins, Utley, Ruiz, Paps – I’m telling you, people are pissed.

      • cmat0829

        WHY the ownership lets Ruben Amaro stagger through another trading deadline is beyond me. He is an absolute joke of a GM. Thanks God the Bucs didn’t hire him back when he was a candidate and they went with NH.

        But, one other point on AJ…there is no rule against he and the Pirates agreeing to restructure the contract is there? If he really wants to come back to the PBC, that might be what it takes. Restructure that… maybe make him give half of it to Martin.

        • deacs

          Many think that Ruben is a puppet for ownership and is basically told not to trade Rollins, Utley, etc. because they need the gate money. Personally I have no idea. Regarding money allocation – the Pirates allocated $12 million to AJ and I forget what they offered Loney but I think it was around 2 years for 10 mil a year or something similar. They clearly used $5 million for Volquez. What happens to the other $17 million? Do they set it aside for contract extensions or picking up salary at the trade deadline? Pretty sure the AJ/Loney thing wasn’t an either/or type deal and they were willing to do both correct?

        • leowalter

          I REALLY like those ideas I tried to tell some Phils fans in Clearwater one fine March day what was going to happen, and they didn’t want to hear it.

        • smurph

          In MLB, you can’t restructure a contract. Part of the power of the MLB union. You are stuck with it. Which is just another reason why a small market needs to avoid these contracts where they overpay for veterans. It killed the Cubs and Mets, it is killing the Phillies. And those are large market teams.

      • krinks

        Philly is the great equalizer along with the Yankees. As good as Cole Hamels is he can’t buy a win.

        The Dodgers are honorable mention. 3 outfielders making ~$20 mil each. Not one of them would crack the Pirates starting lineup.

        Stupid people throw silly money around to the point there isn’t enough left to field a decent team. This is the only way teams like the Pirates have a chance.

  • Cecil.

    If Philly would take no prospects and pick up half the money owed him, I still wouldn’t want him. The teams that give these kinds of contracts should be stuck with them.
    He’s not an upgrade for this year, and in regard to 2015, do you really want to rely on a 38 year old coming off surgery? With a lot of miles on his arm?
    Assuming we make the playoffs, would he be one of the three starters in a 5 game series?
    He chose Philly for personal reasons (more money and proximity to home). Good for him. Now let him suffer the professional consequences of that choice.

    • deacs

      There was a paper out here with that had a picture of him in a Phillies uniform that said “Family Man” in a local newspaper. I nearly threw up. He came to Phily for the money. And that’s fine. It was a ton of money. I get it. But let’s not play the family card.

    • smurph

      Totally agree cecil. He cashed in with his previous contract with the Yankees. He did not need the money, yet he went back on his word, when he said he only wanted to pitch for the Pirates. He changed his mind for one reason – the Phillies offered him WAY too much money.

  • piratemike

    What I don’t understand is why there is even a discussion about AJ
    If NH would acquire AJ than he is no better than Amaro .

  • John

    Apparently Reuben Amaro has a contract with Philly management based on your local weatherpersons!

  • kelso

    I thought there was a club buyout for 1 million to negate the option

  • kelso

    Are there any links to burnetts option details? I thought it was a mutual 15M option with a 1M team buyout or a 7.5 m player option. I assumed that meant that if the team did not buy out the contract aj could force a 7.5M contract

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/ Tim Williams

      It’s in the Cot’s link.

  • BellSupplyCO

    Agreed. Who needs him? Not the Bucs. I was someone who thought NH should have offered AJ a QO. I was wrong. Was the sports hernia something anyone knew about besides AJ? Maybe that’s why NH wisely declined. Personally I would love to see the team as is compete to make the playoffs. If NH can make a trade to improve the team short term AND long then fantastic. The Pirates are a pretty darn good team. Maybe they make it happen.

  • Jared

    I was a HUGE proponent of giving the QO to AJ in the offseason and I still am not sold that sticking with the Bucs would not have produced better results for him. (Here I would offer evidence of the team ERA when Russell Martin is catching vs. other catchers etc)…ultimately, though, I am not now interested in trading anything at all for him. The QO was a great deal because we either got AJ or received a pick or he retired and no one got him. I am now not liking the idea of spending assets to bring the guy back who we could have signed for free (only monetary assets) during the offseason.

    Further, and I know this might not get me much love but oh well, I would rather see that money (the money AJ would cost) go to not only Russell Martin, but also Frankie Liriano. Now hear me out…Francisco Liriano is a lefty, and when he’s on he’s a very, very tough lefty. I do not know what the cost will be for him this offseason (although I could take a pretty good guess) but I do believe that he would still represent a good value for that money. Why? Liriano has the 5th best xFIP on the team (including Watson and Melancon as relievers) and the 3rd best xFIP of all starters. Yes, he has the 6th best FIP of all starters…but he also has the 5th highest GB% of all pitchers on the team and 2nd highest GB% of all starters (behind Charlie)…he has the 5th highest HR/FB ratio and highest amongst the starters not named Wandy Rodriguez.

    Why do I take all the time to mention all of that about Frankie? Because when I look toward next year and the rotation and the depth options…I honestly would not mind, at all, seeing Frankie Liriano on that staff…especially if he pitches in the 2nd half anywhere close to how he pitched last year. Liriano is not old and he has been inconsistent throughout his career, but honestly would likely be a much safer bet (injury concern included for both) over Burnett. And I would guess that IF the Pirates were REALLY thinking/able to take on all that added payroll for AJ…that the Pirates could divide that up between Martin and Liriano and get much, much better values than giving that money to AJ.

  • Simon Weaver

    Give the money to Russell Martin … something in the three year range as the catcher before McGuire

  • Pie Rat

    AJ has Cincy as a team he would not block. interesting, once you get more than a 5 hour drive you might as well go anywhere on the east cost because you would need to fly anyway

  • gregenstein

    There is NFW that the Pirates take Burnett plus his salary and give up anything approaching a bag of balls. The Phillies have to be willing to eat 50% of that contract right off the top to get anyone to even pick up the phone, including Huntington. And even at 50% of his salary, nobody is sending more than a bag of balls back the other way.