Huntington Says Pirates Can’t Afford Burnett at $14 M

David Todd of ESPN 970 had Neal Huntington on his show this afternoon, discussing why the Pittsburgh Pirates didn’t tender A.J. Burnett a qualifying offer. The podcast might eventually go up on David’s page, but for now here is his summary of the Burnett conversation.

Neal Huntington said that the Pirates couldn't afford $14 M for Burnett. (Photo Credit: David Hague)
Neal Huntington said that the Pirates couldn’t afford $14 M for Burnett. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

There are a lot of things to unpack from this. First, if the Pirates feel that they can’t spend $14 M on one player, then that’s going to create problems for them in the future. Taking that literally, that means they can only afford Andrew McCutchen for the next two seasons before he starts making $13-14 M per year. I’m not going to take this literally though, since I think this is more about Burnett.

Burnett has been a fantastic pitcher the last two years. I pointed out last night that guys like Ervin Santana and Ricky Nolasco are projected to receive $13-15 M, while they are asking for $16-20 M. If Burnett were to receive $14 M through the qualifying offer, then he would come at a huge value, since he has been much better the last two years than Santana and Nolasco.

David sums up the chat by saying he feels that the Pirates will look for a bargain like Liriano, and will look to move a reliever. The bargain approach is something they’ve done the last two years. It got Liriano last year, and it got Burnett the previous season. If the Pirates really believe in their abilities to find a bargain, and don’t feel it is a fluke, then you could see how $14 M might be too much for Burnett. It’s not about what Burnett is worth. It’s about opportunity cost. If they can get another bounce back pitcher for $8-10 M a year, and they believe they’ll have the same success as Liriano and Burnett, then it wouldn’t make sense to pay any pitcher $14 M.

Charlie brought up a good point that it’s still early in the off-season, and we shouldn’t take Huntington’s words at face value. Last year the Pirates non-tendered Jeff Karstens, and people threw a fit over the decision. They traded Joel Hanrahan, which was described as a salary dump. The additions of Russell Martin and Francisco Liriano ended up being two of the best free agent moves from last off-season, but at the time the idea of trading Hanrahan to sign Liriano wasn’t widely accepted as a good pair of moves.

The Pirates have a starting payroll of around $63 M this off-season. They spent around $75 M last year, and MLB teams will be getting an extra $20 M this year from National TV revenues. The Pirates also received more money due to an increase in attendance and their playoff ticket sales. They definitely should be able to afford Burnett in a vacuum. But if they’ve got money earmarked for other positions (first base, right field, a buy-low starter), then it’s possible that they don’t have $14 M for Burnett.

I’m not saying their approach with Burnett is the right approach. I think it’s too early to take any stance on that right now. I also think it’s possible that Burnett could return at a hometown discount. As I’ve been saying, I don’t think he’ll go from considering retirement to a multi-year deal. I also think that he’s made enough in his career that he would be fine accepting less on a one-year deal, considering his relationship with the team and the fans in Pittsburgh.

What this does tell us is that this will be a very interesting off-season. The easy move for the Pirates would be to give Burnett a qualifying offer and pay him $14 M if he accepts. They wouldn’t get complaints from the fans, and the move would be widely praised. We saw last year that they weren’t afraid to make an unpopular move (Hanrahan trade) to get guys who they believed could be better options. That worked last year. David Todd feels that they’re going to try again this year. If Burnett doesn’t return, it will be interesting to see the direction they go with that money.

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I always love when people spend enormous amounts of time trying to parse the words that a GM speaks to the media.

Some act like A.J. and the Pirates haven’t already discussed this in full detail. It’s pretty obvious that A.J. is leaning heavily towards retirement, isn’t yet ready to make that announcement, and that by not offering a qualifying offer, the Pirates are purposefully taking the heat off of Burnett.

It would anger more fans if the Pirates made a qualifying offer and then Burnett decides to not take it and retire.

That’s my parsing, anyway….

Scott Skink

As a business asset, AJ doesn’t provide much. He’s old, he’s untradeable. So that has to factor into any equation. AJ has virtually no leverage unless he’s going to change his mind on where he’d play – right now that’s Pittsburgh, Philly, DC, Baltimore.

As Nutting as said over and over, he wants to win, but he’s also a businessman who will make a profit. If he feels he can do that with an $85-$90 mill payroll, IMO he’ll do that. That’s not the same as being cheap for the sake of being cheap. But that also wouldn’t change his view on AJ as a standalone, unconvertable asset.

This issue I have with the Pirates’ philosophy is that they had success with guys who had little expectation for the kind of success they had (Liiriano, Grilli, Melancon, maybe even Morton). I believe other GMs think guys like Johnson and Hughes will come back – and will be willing to bid high for their services. That wasn’t the case for Liriano. So at what point does that game get too expensive for the Pirates, and what do they do when their bounceback targets are everyone else’s bounceback targets, thus too expensive?

That would seem to lead back to AJ again. But will they have burned that bridge by the time they realize that?

Chris O'Rorke

So, you can pay Wandy 8M (after getting 5M from Astros) but can’t pay Burnett. Wandy is garbage. He’s a 4.00 ERA kinda guy. Burnett is a 2/3 starter and like mentioned earlier the Pirates rotation is a bunch of 2/3’s. Good news is Taillon will be up just about the time Cole was so Burnett is expendable. I would much rather move Wandy and keep Burnett.

Pedro needs to be given an extension. Stop being greedy Nutting. You just made a ton and got an extra 20M from TV revenue. Re-invest earnings back into the team. Tabata needs moved. 3M isn’t a lot but still way too much for him. I’m fine with moving a reliever. If you cut some slack then you can easily afford Burnett. I’d rather take a run at David Price. Hear me out. I think he can be had for 18M year one and say for 6 yrs/140M. The most frustrating thing every year is spreading out 2-4M in four or five positions and getting nothing in return. You caught lightning in a bottle with Liriano. You can’t expect to do that every year. Those moves happen 2 times out of a 100 in MLB. And don’t give me Vin Mazzaro every team in the league has guys like that. For a decade, that strategy didn’t work. Reggie Sanders is the only one that did work. You got the fans back and it is time to press. The extra 20M from TV revenues gives you the opportunity to do such a move. If I’m paying top buck I want a sure thing and David Price for example would be a sure thing. Price-Cole-Liriano-Taillon is a top echelon MLB playoff rotation. That’s how you compete with the big boys. Not throwing out Wandy and hope he doesn’t slot one that ends up in the Allegheny.

I also want a young SS as well. Javier Baez or Jurickson Profar. I don’t think Hanson can stick at SS. Profar will be moved this offseason so why not to us. His value should be down (off year, no leverage, they don’t need him)


Chris O’Rorke : people like you calling any player ” garbage ” might as well walk around with a ” kick me,I am stupid ” sign on. If you don’t think a particular player is very good,that is your right. But to call them ” garbage ” ? Sounds to me like you really are clueless.

Nick A. Capernicus

how do you know hanson cant stick at short… he has been flawless in the fall, and had a strong end of the year in double A. Also you would have to give taillon up for Price no doubt. And Wandy no one wants him at 8mil and injury prone, you cant just cut him either.


NAC : If you think Alen Hanson is ready to play SS at the ML level,you are completely in dreamland. Try to find the time to see him play in person before you make a ridiculous statement like that.

Nick A. Capernicus

no one said he was ready to… he is only in double a chief. I didnt day he was ready i was just saying he has shown improvement

IC Bob

Chris you sure do want a lot. Just a few points. The Bucs would not sign Wandy if it was up to them but its not. He had a player option and he exercised it. Not a lot of teams lining up to take on Tabbys contract so we can’t just give him away. As for the rest of your ideas, I can’t stop laughing. I get the feeling the other teams who have Profar, Price or Baez might want something in return. I doubt it will be Wandy or Tabata.

Cato the Elder

What you don’t think Tampa would trade us David Price for Wandy straight up, or that Texas would trade us Profar for Tabata. While we are at it we ought to see if the Tigers will trade us Cabrera for Lambo. He’s coming off a poor playoff performance and we could move him to first base and not even have to platoon him. Finally, we could reanimate Walter Johnson and sign him to solidify the the back of our rotation. If the don’t do it, it is because Nitting is cheap. Got to admit: a rotation of Price, Liriano, Cole, Tallion and Walter Johnson would match up pretty well against the NL central. I hear we’re getting additional TV revenue. Make it happen Neal!

IC Bob

What this tells me it the Bucs don’t want him period. I could be they tired of his antics and have decided to just walk away. That comment would be Neal telling the fan base we are not even going to pursue. I never thought Burnett would be resigned and I will stand by that.

Cato the Elder

Am I miss understanding something with regards to national TV revenues? We keep talking about the extra $20 million they will get, but doesn’t every other team get that as well? I don’t see how that extra money will help us our bid any other team – a rising tide raises all ships – it will just inflate the market and make all free agents more expensive. We’ll have more money to spend on more expensive players. I don’t see how that helps us much.


Yes, the idea of revenue going directly to player salaries is absurd, so there might be some advantage to the teams that commit a greater share to player salaries. Lost in all the revenue hype, skyrocketing value of teams, is that operating income on average fell 9% around the league. So certain teams have clearly expected this revenue increase and worked it into their current payrolls.

Benjamin McFerren

Nice to hear that we are ready to move a reliever

I hope we can get good value in return for Melancon

Lot of teams in the market for a closer / setupman: Texas, Yankees, Detroit, Rays, Tribe, Astros, Angels, Oakland, Seattle, Mets, Arizona, Dodgers

Certainly each have some players that could make an impact on our squad

Cato the Elder

I would like to move the reliever who would net the biggest return and my guess is that would be Grilli because of “proven closer” tag. Also, Melancon is cheaper and has years of arbitration left, so that has to be taken into account when considering his value.


I would rather move Melancon, unless he is able to develop a second pitch. Late in the season and in the playoffs RH hitters were laying back on his slider and just dumping it into right field. If Melancon could somehow learn Morton’s sinker he would be a true sinker/slider pitcher and would be devastating. Maybe that’s too much to ask at the Major League level. For now Melancon is a “one trick pony” and the Pirates might be best served to move him for good return if they can.

Nick A. Capernicus

we would not more melancon, he was the key guy in the the hannrahan deal. He has years of cheap control NH would never do that. Also everyone is scrared by his one below average month, Karma was bound to catch up to him, and he had one bad year in boston, he was domiante the year before with Houston as a closer. A more realistic guy would be Grilli one year left, coming off a little injury too. Plus he is making 4.2 mil. You could find a team looking for bullpen (rays, oakland, colorado, tigers).


Melancon in September pitched 10.1 inning and batters hit .333/.333/.353, he gave up one double, walked no one and batters had a .447 BABIP. I do not consider that struggling.

I would not be opposed to trade in theory; however he is entering his first year of arbitration, this is not Joel Hanrahan due in excess of $6 million.


The Pirates traded for Melancon because the 22.2% HR/FB was due to regress, now they should jettison him because of 2 HR and 40% HR/FB over four appearances?


Maloncon in the Playoffs:
ERA = 9.82
WHIP = 1.64
Ave = .333
HR = 2
Looked like the Cards had him pretty well figured out. But you are right that he is relatively inexpensive.

Benjamin McFerren

The question is basically in AJ’s court:

Is he more interested in one more year of a major league salary ($14mil ) or is he more interested in winning a world series?

If he is more interested in winning a World Series, then he will sign for $5mil and allow us to use those discretionary dollars in other areas.

Bob Martin

I got a great question..Other than last season, what has Neal done that gives you hope that he can put a competitive team together? Can Neal find bullpen arms on the cheap? He sure can but when it comes to everyday players,other than Martin, he has failed over and over again.
Now that the team had some success and made some money and will be getting more next year do to increase ticket prices, and increase tv revenue. Neal comes out and says. WE can’t afford to pay a play more that 14m per season. Well if that’s true only got to say two things. First, it’s business as usual on Federal St. Secondly, Bob Nutting and Co would like to extend their middle fingers closer to our faces so we can all see it the time.

Cato the Elder

Wandy exercised a player option, it wasn’t the front offices choice, and no team would trade for him for the very same reason you are so eager to dump him. Pedro won’t sign an extension because Scott Boras player rarely ( if ever) sign extensions that cut into free agency. Neither of those things have much to do with anybody being cheap.

Cato the Elder

Sorry, posted in th wrong spot!

Ian Rothermund

Remind me again how it benefits the Pirates so immensely to resign Burnett at 14 mil for next year, whenever it’s very likely that he could be signed for considerably less. Would it be a terrible decision to bring him back? No. However, at 14 million dollars, the question has to be asked, is there someone better for the money? If the Pirates would care to make a splash with this sudden influx of TV money, why would it be worthwhile to blow it on a pitcher that’s on his way out? Money like that would be better spent elsewhere. Then again, if they could sign him back for 10-12 million, that’s 2-5 million dollars that could be spent on someone else. Just because NH didn’t back the truck of money up to Burnett’s house doesn’t make him a bad GM. It’s more of the same from NH; refusing to overpay for stats that can be potentially recreated at a much lower rate.

Cato the Elder

Due to economic realities, this team will rarely find its competitive advantages in free agency. It will have to draft and develop its own talent and trade over-priced commodities for undervalued ones. The fact that the front office recognizes this is precisely what gives me hope.

My future hope resides in an out field of ‘Cutch, Marte, and Polanco, a rotation of Cole, Taillion, Glasnow, Kingham, et al. a cheap, successful bullpen. Throw in Pedro, Walker, Hansen, Sanchez, Lambo, Dickerson, and sprinkle in couple of high value (if not high cost) free agents and you have a very competitive team for the foreseeable future.

Hope that answers your “great question.”


True wisdom Cato. No wonder your an Elder!


The over reaction to anything the Pirates do in the off season is comical, the Pirates could have a number of options up their sleeve and yes money does matter, there are too many thick heads that don’t understand that fact and you can’t analyze the Pirates financial situation, the media and fans have been trying to do it for years, money matters to all teams, the Yankees did not want to pay Martin, the Pirates did, I don’t hear anyone mentioning how cheap the Yankees were, giving up a top 5 catcher and going with very poor options because they did not want to pay a couple mil more.


Correct leadoff. But Bob must have forgotten about that.The Yankees were tripping over a dollar to save a dime with Martin,and now they are in the conversation regarding McCann and a multi year,huge money deal because they were so dumb. Theo Epstein has given huge money and long term deals to Rizzo and Castro,hired Dale Sveum, and he is a genius.But only Huntingdon has ” failed over and over again “.

Ian Rothermund

I definitely agree with some of the previous comments regarding NH’s public persona. He never seems to let too much go, he’s not one to fly off the handle. So chances are, if he supplies details in regards to potential player acquisitions or resignings, it’s meant to mean something. However, what if the meaning behind this is simple as, they can’t afford Burnett for 14 mil/yr. People are looking rather deep into this, but maybe it isn’t all complicated. This doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t afford the right player for 14 mil, just not a 37 yr old pitcher. Furthermore, is Burnett really worth that much? Even with additional TV revenue, that is indeed a steep price for a player where the Pirates already possess great depth. That money would be better spent in addressing other aspects of the team.


IR: Yes, that may be a bit much for a 37 year old, except when you look at the numbers and ignore the date of birth. On the Pirates AJ has been the #1 in the rotation in 2012 and going into 2013. At the end of 2013 he and Francisco Lirianois are #1 /#2 regardless of how you evaluate. Jeff Locke had an excellent half of a season, Charlie Morton and Gerrit Cole had excellent half seasons and Wandy Rodriguez was good for a third of the season. Our future has to be concentrated on Cole, Locke, and the soon-to-arrive, Jameson Taillon. Liriano and Rodriguez are definitely gone between now and the end of 2014, and the inconsistent Charlie Morton will turn 30 in a few days and will be a Free Agent after the 2014 season. I would love to see the Pirates going into 2014 with AJ and then have 3 bullets to fire between now and the trading deadline with Liriano, Rodriguez, and Morton. I like Brandon Cumpton and he is a 25 year old ground ball machine under team control for 6 years, and did very well for the Pirates in his 5 or 6 appearances in 2013. Jeanmar Gomez was also very good for the Pirates in 2013 as a SP/RP, but I think he is already into his arbitration years.

The Pirates achieved a year earlier than originally expected, but the goal has to remain how to build for the future while still maintaining a strong Rotation. A 37 year old who had one of his best seasons in 2013 is a bridge beyond 2014 with an innings eater at the top of the rotation.

Kerry Writtenhouse

It’s the offseason and clearly Huntington is in gm mode. The scary part of this is; a) we can’t compete for the top free agents. b) we can’t make qualifying offers for our free agents to pick up draft picks, while the Yankees and Red Sox can offer to anyone with a pulse. Everywhere you look, the playing field is so uneven and it’s getting worse all the time.


I think what he ment was that the Pirates cannot pay a 4th or 5 th stater 14 million dollars. Saying that would only tick off AJ, calling him a bottom of the rotation starter. So he maned up and took one for the team. Paying a bottom of the rotation starter who is not an innings eater that much money isn’t good. Plus if taillon is ready in the middle of the year, what happends if the number 5 starter is AJ? How would that effect team chemisty, more to the point, would AJ be a douche about it? All that fun is not worth 14 million dollares


In a vacuum “4th or 5th starter” is irrelevant. That only matters if you know the quality of a team’s entire rotation.

Doug Fister is the 4th starter in Detroit, and put up 4.6 WAR this year. You tell me……what is that 4th starter “worth”?


20 million plus, but you are ignoring your own point l, we know who the starters will be. Right now there are at least 3 pitchers ahead of him. 4, if you think Jeff Locke just ran out of gas and will pitch like he did the first half, and Wandy is a toss up. and possible 2-3 more by the middle of the summer. So what do you do with AJ? 14 million middle reliever? He would be a great closer, but why have a 14 million closer when you have two options that are just as good making 1/3 rd of what he’s making.


i was just about to say the same exact thing, but couldn’t think of how to put it.

There is no reason to label the starters as the 1, the 2, the 3, the 4, the 5.

The pirates have a rotation of 2s and 3s. Burnett is a borderline 2/3.

You don’t have to tell anybody “Dude, you’re the Tony Armas Jr. of the rotation. Enjoy!” I’m sure they’d love to have burnett back because he makes the team better because he is better than jeff locke, who actually is a 4th/5th starter.


True. But past success is not a guarantee of future performance, particularly if your 37. A pitcher’s ability can vanish overnight, ask Steve Blass. What if AJ’s meltdown in St. Louis was AJ’s Steve Blass moment, and he can’t comeback? Surely AJ wanted to put up an elite performance in the playoff game, but he couldn’t find it. Which AJ will show up for Spring Training 2014, the regular season AJ or the Playoff AJ? Who really has any idea?


I agree that the stats say 1/2. I was probably just being to harsh since he’s only really a two pitch pitcher. But that breaking ball is a true elite offering so yeah you’re right.

My main point was that there is no reason to label him as the “5th starter”

Chris Hale

I have 100% faith in Neal Huntington If we are honest nobody in baseball has gotten the kind of bargain’s Huntington has. The results from guys like Burnett,Liriano,Grilli,Melancon.Gomez,Mazarro, even Kevin Correia have been astronomical. I don’t see how we can question him anymore. LOL I do think it is B.S that they can’t afford A.J . They can’t afford him because they have other targets in mind I see them spending a good chunk of money this off season I would bank on Neal going and spending significant money on at least one Starting position player and a starting pitcher maybe two of one of them. I look for the Pirates to sign a Phil Hughes or Josh Johnson type. Everything Searage touches turns to gold. If he had success with JJ the way he did with A.J and Liriano we have Cy young caliber starting pitcher. I also see Neal adding a hitter for the bench. There is no doubt the Pirates have a lot of money to spend

Matt Beam

Biggest off season signing priorities, hopefully Searage and Benedict for an extra $100-200K each – would love to see what they could do with Hughes and Johnson


Chris…I am with you on the 100% trust in NH.


Thinking as Neal. The best thing that could happen for the Pirates is AJ to come back for one year and cheap. That could still happen.


I think the main reason for not forking over the 14KK is the fact that he faded in the last (and most important) part of the season; probably because he is, after all, 37 & is a power pitcher that early on was able to throw it whereever (down) he wanted to, EARLY IN THE SEASON.He just couldn’t be counted on at the end,like a good 14-17 KK$ pitcher should be in the clutch. Much like a champion calibre boxer, the edge that they enjoy is slim, & even the slightest decrease in skills can quickly become disasterous-think of Ali, who for the longest time was unhittable (unintended irony); who, much to his & the boxing world’s chagrin, became a punchingbag not long after 37! The shelf life of these 2 sports is eerily similar!


If Neal’s being 100% being serious, it’s kind of pathetic.

But i kind of doubt that’s the whole story. Every answer was “yeah, David. I can’t tell you that because it would be stupid of me to tell you.” everything was about minimizing possible consequences of giving too much info.

I can’t imagine that one of the few answers he gave, “$14M in one player was a bit steep for us” was the whole story and wasn’t a strategy answer just like the “i can’t tell you that” answers. it sure wouldnt have been wise to say “we wanna spend all of teh moneyz.”

Every answer he gives is given to minimize loss of leverage. I doubt the crying poor was an exception.

They had to have had a good reason for doing this other than being poor, and hopefully it becomes clear as the offseason progresses.


NH very rarely lets down his guard. He is negotiating 24/7. He smiles, and is very courteous, but the gears are always turning, and every word is uttered for the maximum improvement of leverage. I have negotiated contracts for 30 years in the construction industry, and NH would be one of the more difficult people to engage in negotiations. He is cold, calculating, and you just listen to him and know that the only books he has in his library are The Art of War, and anything ever written by Bill James. Pay attention because he is always negotiating through the press – $14 mil is too much? He wants 2 years not to exceed $20 mil, or he could go as high as $12 mil in the first year and then leave $10 mil as a Club Option in the second year with a relatively high buyout of $2.0 mil, Oh, and BTW, he has served notice that he is not willing to sit around and wait – NH needs something by the GM Meetings in December or he has to move on. And, he scares the hell out of other GM’s.


emjay….I LOVE that last sentence of yours.


Whether he comes back is not my main issue right now. I feel NH is showing bad form on his approach to AJ. I agree with your thinking that this reflects badly on players wanting to come to Pittsburgh. I don’t think NH realizes that while Liriano and Martin were great additions there was also some luck involved that it worked out so well. I’m a little concerned that maybe NH’s ego is getting large from this years success. I really believe CH and NH don’t want him back and this is what it is all about. Well I guess it is wait and see time.


I look at it a different way. Not offering a qualifying offer is a way of showing the player respect if his true market value is greater than the qualifying offer. Tim has argued that Burnett is worth more than $14M on the open market. Making the qualifying offer diminishes the amount of money the player can earn, and in Burnett’s case where his career only has a few more years to run every year counts. Burnett is now free to negotiate with either Baltimore or Washington, where he could commute from home to work and likely earn more than $14M on a one year deal if he wants to work for another year. How could he complain about that?

It also encourages other players who are 30ish, looking to rebuild their career to sign with the Pirates. The Pirates can say “Look at what we did with AJ. Sign here for two or three years. When your contract ends, if your market value is more than what we can pay we won’t make you a qualifying offer, blocking you from making more money.” This should be very attractive to a free agent who believes in his ability to rebound and become an elite player, just the type of FA that the Pirates want to attract.

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